From Eric S. Caruncho of Inquirer.net
HE may have been named after the god of love, but Eros S. Atalia, this year’s first prize winner in the Maikling Kuwento category, draws his inspiration from those who rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Says Atalia: “Gusto kong bigyan ng pansin ang hindi masyadong nabibigyan ng pansin, bigyang halaga ang hindi masyadong napapahalagahan: ’yung pagmamahal, damdamin at emosyon ng karaniwang tao, karaniwang problema—lahat ng karaniwan na hindi kinakaraniwan ng karaniwan. (I want to draw attention to those who have not been given attention and value what has not been valued: the feelings and emotions of ordinary people with ordinary problems, everything ordinary that is never ordinary for the ordinary).”
Although his story takes place in a very specific social milieu—the grim waterfront of Cavite City where marginal fishermen struggle to eke out a bare existence and take what meager pleasures life has to offer them—Atalia hesitates to call himself a “social realist.”
He says he tries to avoid contaminating his writing with politics, preferring to put down his own feelings and observations. But true to the aphorism, the personal is, unavoidably, political.
“Tawag sa akin ni Sir Jun Cruz Reyes ‘hindi lantad na aktibista’ sa pagsusulat. Ayaw kong tawagin ang sarili ko na aktibista pero ayon kay Jun Cruz Reyes, aminin ko man o hindi, punung-puno ng aktibismo at hinanakit at galit sa mundo ang pagsusulat ko. (Jun Cruz Reyes calls me a ‘hidden activist’ in my writings. I don’t want to call myself an acitivist, but he says whether I admit it or not, my writing is full of activism, hurt and anger at the world).”
The astringent flavor of Atalia’s writing can be found in his first book, “Taguan Pung (Koleksyon ng Mga Dagling Kathang Di Pambata) at Manwal ng Mga Nagpapagal (Kopi Teybol Dedbol Buk),” published by UST earlier this year.
In fact, Intoy Syokoy, the main character in Atalia’s story, is based on one of his contemporaries, a subsistence fisherman who, in spite of being poor, illiterate and unattractive became a local hero of sorts because of his skills. His heroine, on the other hand, sells “tilapia,” a Cavite City euphemism for the low-grade prostitutes who service the fishermen, and who sometimes settle for being paid in fish instead of cash when business is slow. It is quite a refreshing change from stale social realist portrayals of noble “fisherfolk” struggling against exploitation by the comprador class. Rather than “social realism,” Atalia prefers to call it “semi-documentary.”
The son of a veteran newsman, Atalia grew up in Cavite City, witnessing the rapid decline of its fortunes after the closing of the US base in Sangley Point. One of his regrets is never learning to speak Chavacano, the now-vanishing dialect of Cavite City. (He peppers his dialogue with a smattering of Chavacano, perhaps in the hope of delaying its imminent demise as a language.)
Atalia graduated with a major in Filipino from the Philippine Normal University, and started teaching Filipino at the University of Sto. Tomas, where he has worked for the last eight years. He was also affiliated with UST’s Social Research Center and the Center for Creative Writing Studies.He says his early works were philosophical in nature, until Jun Cruz Reyes and some of his other mentors and role models convinced him to go back to basics and explore his roots. This led to a reexamination of his hometown and its lower depths, which proved to be a motherlode of inspiration.
With his amazing work and contribution as a Cavitenio, he deserves to be called as a Cavite's Pride and Finest.
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