“This isn’t a tale of heroic feats. It’s about two lives running parallel for a while, with common aspirations and similar dreams. What we had in common – our restlessness, our impassioned spirits, and a love for the open road.”
These are the words of a young man who took on a journey across South America, and who the world would later go on to know as Che Guevara. And the movie ‘Diarios de Motocicleta’, based on his diary that chronicled this journey, is a fascinating and entertaining tale of so many things – of friendship, of identity, and of injustice.
Ernesto Che Guevara was 23 in 1952, and had almost completed his MD in leprosy, with just maybe a thesis remaining. And the friend who goes along with him is Alberto Granado, 29, a biochemist. And they both have dreamt up a journey across the continent of South America, for 4 months, from Buenos Aires, to a leprosy camp in Peru – a distance of over 8000 kms, on a motorcycle.
Mohandas Gandhi, in 1913 had come back to India from South Africa. And by then, he was already famous. He was known as the lawyer who successfully staged a satyagraha demanding equal status for the Indians in South Africa. So, when he returned, he went to the Indian National Congress, and met Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Gokhale, much as he was impressed by this lawyer’s success in South Africa, wanted Mohandas to travel across the length and breadth of India. That would be your education, preparation for your task, he would say, and Gandhi did travel across the country with his wife for about an year. Until then, until he took that journey, he was just Mohandas Gandhi, or Mohan, but after that journey, he became the Mahatma.
And here, we have Ernesto and Granado, naive and young as they were, to think they could crisscross a continent on a motorbike. These journeys these men took, across different continents, Gandhi across India, and Ernesto across South America – they encountered men, and ideas of different kinds – were the catalysts turning them into the men they would be later in their lives.
Like Ernesto notes in his diary – “Me, I’m not the same me, at least not the same spiritual me.”
And personally, here I am, traveling across the world, meeting new people from different corners of the world, through the eyes of cinema for the past 4 or 5 years. And it had an effect on me. It changed me. I am more open, more understanding now.
These journeys, mine a virtual one fueled by the internet and cinema, are what I’d like to call the modern equivalents to the Geeta. Prince Arjuna was the greatest warrior of his times, and a war was about to begin. But then, he fell in a dilemma, what am I waging this war for? I am only going to kill my brothers for just a piece of land. And so, he did not know what he should do. Then, Krishna, the great Lord, and Arjuna’s charioteer, came up with this great message, about a man’s duty on Earth, and prepares Arjuna to get rid of his dilemma and fight.
So, the Geeta is basically a preparatory piece, it quelled all the dilemmas Arjuna had, and made him war ready. So, similarly, these journeys these men took, they are their preparatory pieces, their journeys prepared them to take on the challenges these men would face, and made them great men – men who would go on to be remembered and revered for centuries to come.
“Every generation needs a journey story; every generation needs a story about what it is to be transformed by geography, what it is to be transformed by encounters with cultures and people that are alien from yourself, and you know that age group 15 to 25, that’s the perfect generation to get on a motorcycle, to hit the road, to put on your backpack and just go out.” – José Rivera, screenwriter.