Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age – Bohumil Hrabal

Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age

The delicate swirls of bubbles that dash to greet the robust rim of the glass, the bashful flour that audaciously rises to an aromatic marvel and the musical notes of the hammer as it drums the quiescent nails into colourful leather, only if they had words attached to their expeditions could we have then known the chronicles of a far-fetched yeast and a wooden caricature of an yet unborn shoe. Aren’t we lucky to be humans, to be able to knit words into our experiences? Isn’t life beautiful even with all its flaws? Untouched memories that nestle cozily in forgotten sentiments, lingering nostalgia that hides its viciousness behind the surreal veil of pleasantries, morph into an enlightening flow between a man and his alternative search for therapeutic consolations. Everyone is a story teller. Some carve, some orate and some discover a home to their lost words at the dusk of their lives. Yet, stories are somehow formed and lessons are bestowed step by step to the listeners who sway in these choreographed audible melodies, dancing to the tunes of splendor madness that transcends into the spontaneity of “palaverers”.

Hrabal says, “Human being is always mistaken in his point of view on the world, but that the world in which he lives, its underlying truth as a context of facts, cannot be mistaken.”

When the romanticism of the world seduces the melancholic acrobats of realism, imaginary tales are woven cheerfully indulging the severity of the past into an absolute tenderness of an aesthetic heroism. Have you ever noticed the face of the person who ecstatically recites nostalgic tales? At some stage in those various gradations of the sound bites, an infectious smiles get crafted on the narrator’s face that eventually finds a way to be plastered on your face and long after the stories fade in the moody air , the words remain powerfully glued like that smile. Jirka must have sported the identical contagious grin when he began telling his wondrous tales to a bunch of beauties lazing in the sun. Inspired by Bohumil’s Uncle Pepin, Jirka’s stories brought the pub alive with flamboyant memories that highlighted a harsh realism of a revolutionary era of the Austro-Hungarian landscape and the succeeding historical events with refined emotions. The noisy clatter of the Perko typewriter that Hrabal loved listening to as his poured his heart out resounded in the divine melodies of Jirka’s world.

“The world is a beautiful place don’t you think? Not because it is but because I see it that way, the way Pushkin saw it in that movie , poor Pushkin, to die in a duel, and so young, his last poems gushing from a bullet hole in his head, I could tell from the picture that he admired the European Renaissance too, he had fantastic muttonchops, you know the whiskers our own Franz Joseph wore, and Strauss the composer,…”

Jirka’s prose becomes an animated medium through which Bohumil depicts the chronological Austro-Hungarian revolution into diversified sovereignty. The reminiscence of a fading imperialist monarchy lingers in the ruins of pious love that had been washed by wantonness and glamour of money. The partisan of the Church refrained from sins but they were not saints. Bohumil impishly mocking the law of the Church by describing the Holy Trinity as a “carrier pigeon to communicate”;debates how the Church and the religious elites had insisted on “curbing passion” and restricting the liberation of human or rather sexual desires bringing nothing but sadness in the end. The discrepancies that prevailed in the society, the absurdities on the war front and the hypocritical approach to sexual aspirations, the suicide and other criminal exploits shine fiercely through Jirka’s words as the sun touches the supple skin of his gorgeous audience.

“Javanese cinnamon is better than Ceylonese cinnamon is good in mulled wine and fruit…….”

A soldier who became a shoemaker and then found a concrete place in the vocation of brewery, Jirka was in love with his work, no matter its station. In his stories one can unearth meticulous recollection of the fermentation processes on how the yeast and hops made a wondrous marriage that resulted in one of the finest brew in Europe. For a sturdy soldier with a sensitive heart, he sure did make good quality shoes. As a charmer with fine hands, Jirka could have enticed the Prime Minister’s daughter, but he was a gentleman and there could have been bad consequences and Mr. Batista would not approve it at all. Isn’t Jirka a hero? For he knows “how a real man trembles like a frog about to leap whenever he sees a beautiful woman” and yet he maintained his sexual hygiene. Hrabal, amuses the reader with such exquisite sentences that find prominent place in this fanfare of miscellaneous characters and simultaneous stories. Furthermore, it gets outright comical when Jirka lambast that even though progress is good for mankind, when it comes to his favourite bread, butter and beer, the damn technology is to be slowed down. (“Why will no one see that progress may be good for making people people, but for bread and butter and beer it’s the plague, they’ve got to slow down their damn technology).Given that Hrabal scripted Jirka before the Communist occupation in 1968, Jirka and his opinions were not subjected to censorship, fortunately.

“A certain poet by the name of Bondy once told me people have strange ideas about what writing poetry means, they think it’s like going for water with a bucket or that poets just lift up their eyes unto the heavens and the heavenly hosts rain down verses upon them…….he had such a head on his shoulders that even today the professors go gaga over him….”

The free-thinkers who question the authoritative Church, the social democrats who widely indulge in the quintessential “chicken v/s egg” debate, place Charles Darwin on the pedestal. Egon Bondy was one of the dearest pal of Bohumil, a free-thinker, a poet who questioned every conservative regulation propelled amongst the societal more, Hrabal portraying his friend writes,
“Bondy the poet- he wrote poetry only in the toilet with a poetry board on his kneed and a notebook on the pastry board…..”

Through Jirka’s insightful eyes, Bondy who forever travels with his two babies pushing their buggy, elucidates why poets love to drink and meditate and how are blessed with sudden prophetic intellectual enlightenment. Hrabal puts forth the religion v/s atheist argumentative skilfully inferring how politics and writing go hand-in hand, no matter the pursued resistance.

In this mesmerizing monologue, the 70-yr old Jirka who now quite often visits the cemetery and wonder why don’t working people sing songs anymore becomes Hrabal’s beloved palaverer who immensely appreciates the feminine charisma. After all, it is only the poets who think of death and “old fogies” like him think of women. Jirka’s narratives not only bring surreal grandeur to his life but make the reader feel alive and sense the utmost sentiment of belonging in a place where beauty was discovered everywhere.

Hrabal said of his palaverers, “Thanks to their madness, transcend themselves through experiment and spontaneity and through their ridiculousness they achieve a kind of grandeur, because they end up where no one expected them or expects them.”

So, as the delicate aroma of the fragrant dough rising from its humid stupor fills the kitchen , I put on my new pair of shoes and wordlessly listen to the melody of a chilled lager cascading into a crystalline maze , the frothy allure embracing the steamy bliss that springs from the soft warm bread waving the mischievous beer bubbles a long farewell and when the butter melts into a golden stream, I leisurely pin my ears onto Jirka while clinking my glass to his amusing anecdotes and letting out a heartfelt gratitude to the literary art of Hrabal Bohumil and his dearest pal, Egon Bondy.



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