Route 138: Real, imagined and non-existent | Daily News

Route 138: Real, imagined and non-existent

A 138 bus
A 138 bus

In the year 1933, the P.E.N. Club in the city of Buenos Aires, Argentine had decided to honour two poets, the Chilean Pablo Neruda and the Spaniard Federico Garcia Lorca, and they in turn decided to resurrect a third, Ruben Dario, the Argentinian who was also a Nicaraguan, a Chilean and a Spaniard.

Neruda described how they went about it in the following manner.

‘We had prepared a talk al alimon. You probably don’t know what that means, and neither did I. Federico, who always had some invention or idea up his sleeve, explained: “Two bullfighters can fight the same bull at the same time, using only one cape between them. This is one of the most perilous feats in bullfighting. That’s why it is so seldom seen. Not more than twice or three times in a century, and it can be done only by two bullfighters who are brothers, or at least blood relations. This is called fighting a bull al alimon.”’

And that’s how they did it.

‘Well, we set out speaking together, with me saying “Ladies” and he continuing with

“and gentlemen,” twining our phrases throughout, so that they flowed like a single speech, right to the end. The oration was dedicated to Ruben Dario, because, though no one could accuse us of being modernists, both Garcia Lorca and I regarded Ruben Dario as one of the most creative poets in the Spanish language.’

Here’s a slice:

Lorca: We give you the poet of America and Spain: Ruben . . .

neruda: Dario. Because, ladies . . .

lorca: and gentlemen . . .

neruda: Where, in Bueno Aires, is there a Ruben Dario Plaza?

lorca: Where is Ruben Dario’s statue?

neruda: He loved parks. Where is Ruben Dario Park?

lorca: What florist carries Ruben Dario roses?

neruda: Where are Ruben Dario apple trees? Ruben Dario apples?

lorca: Where is the cast of Ruben Dario’s hand?

neruda: Where?

lorca: Ruben Dario sleeps in the Nicaragua of his birth under a ghastly lion made of plaster like those the rich set at their gates.

neruda: A mail-order lion for him who was a founder of lions, a lion without stars for him who dedicated the stars to others.

More than 80 years later, there were two poets who conversed in query. The transcript, as far as both were concerned, was the best literature they had ever produced. They both felt they could never write that way again.

One of them wondered if they could celebrate poetry and poets in the same manner bookended by an appropriate preamble and sign-off, an ending along the following lines. [the lines in bold type to be spoken by one and those in normal text by the other].

I, …………….

and I,………………

separated by decade and generation,

united in the admiration for a poet, cognizant of the fragility of love, leave you,


and gentlemen

with one final question that is query and at once statement:

Who are we if we are not one another,

who are we if we are not the signature of sky on a leaf,

if we are not the chlorophyll that turns the cosmos into garden and love?

It never came to pass, but that's another story. However, it is lines and designs such as these make people think poets are incurable lunatics. Incurable romantics, would be the kinder way of saying it. And this is what made for the following conversation between one who was sane and the other who was mad.

‘You are going zig-zag on the 138 bus route!’ That’s a description.

Yes, the route that goes from the Pettah to Maharagama and sometimes to Kottawa or Homagama. There’s a lot of traffic. Many impatient drivers and some who should not be driving in the first place.

‘You are going to get knocked down!’ That’s a prediction.

And ‘the lunatic’ responded thus: ‘There are no 138 buses on this route!’

To which, the sane friend replied with a laugh.

The lunatic continued, softly.

‘It’s not just that there are no 138 buses, there’s no such road either!’

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