By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
It is a book that draws you in.
Three-time Palanca Award-winning writer Ferdinand Pisigan Jarin’s collection of 10 personal narratives titled “Anim na Sabado ng Beyblade’ is a testament to the innate power of the well-written word to convey so many things at once. His essays unpretentiously titled with names of places and employment positions (“Quinabangan”, “Niog”, “Baclaran”, “Pulot Boy”, “Service Crew”) are stories of his life and his experiences. He looks back at his not-so distant past from the perspective and emotion of one who has won very hard battles and painfully lost some others.
Jarin’s language is alive, lyrical, sharp and emotional without being maudlin or saccharine. He minces no words when it comes to describing his personal tragedies.He convinces the reader that life is comprised of unpredictable stories, but stories that we can somewhat control with the help of introspection, resilience, and humor.
In “Quinabuangan”, Jarin describes the place where his mother took him and his brother after her marriage broke apart, in Candelaria, Zambales. In a few spare paragraphs, he explains that his father abandoned them and that forced by desperate economic circumstances, his mother went to Quinabangan with her two young boys so they can start anew. Then he proceeds to share his life.
First off: as a boy he was undersized; it’s not clear if his small build was a result of genetics, but this may not have been the case so much as it being caused by malnutrition. As a young boy, he suffered the humiliation of having to ask classmates to share food with him during recess. On other times, when he was able to buy the cheap “nutribun” bread and milk-like “klim” made available by the government to public school children, he felt hope that he might still “grow”. Second, nowhere in his telling is an expression or emotion that he resented his circumstances. He blamed neither his absent father nor his mother who was forced to leave them with his grandparents to work in a factory in Manila. His hunger pangs temporarily sated and his insecurity at having old and threadbare clothes set aside, the young boy would then run home after school to climb trees, play tag with other rural ragamuffins and neglect to return home by curfew.
Seeing through the lens of childhood, Jarin affirms the often neglected truth that children are people wrought small: they feel anguish the same way their adult counterparts do, but their resilience is such that they do not break under its weight. In the future telling of what took place in the past, that is where the impact of such tragedies and challenges are revealed.
And who knew that there was such a place as Quinabangan? It makes one realize the sheer number of life-stories similar to Jarin’s exist can be found in even the most obscure places; that people always have stories that are interesting because their experiences are by turns happy, hysterical, tragic and glorious. As for children, they all deserve respectbecause they are genuine survivors.
‘D Pol Pisigan Band
This essay won Jarin his third Palanca Award. It is a tribute to his grandfather, and here he provides an introduction to the life of a musikero: his grandfather led a band and was a trained musician who played for crowds whether in barrio concerts or funerals.
This is where Jarin – also an accomplished musician in his own right – learned his love for music. He honed his skills by first playing what is known to be easiest instrument to learn: cymbals. He developed discipline from watching his lolo practice his skill. More than all this, however, he learned about human nature, specifically from how his grandfather quietly dealt with the small rivalries, treacheries and betrayals that took place between and among the band members.
Jarin clearly loved his grandparents and from them learned strength of character and love. When Jarin’s grandmother died, his grandfather also slowly let go of life. They were Poling and Floring, and one without the other could not survive.
This essay is also markedly funny. It is revealed that from childhood, Jarin can never be persuaded to eat food served at wakes and funerals beyond the usual candy and often dry and paper-tasting biscuits. In his young, over-active and somewhat morbid imagination, he believed that food in wakes contain ingredients that derive directly from the remains of the departed.
Niog is a barangay or community in Bacoor, Cavite. This is where Jarin lived with an aunt and uncle and attended high school after leaving Quinabangan. Niog is also where Jarin learned to drink, smoke, and experience falling in love for the first time.
What is striking about Jarin’s telling is that he does not hesitate to reveal his own fragility. Unlike other male writers who sometimes balk at revealing supposedly “weaker” emotions, Jarin is matter of fact in describing his. He is by turns a loud and rowdy teenager struggling not to choke on his first cigarette, and a bashful lover who hesitates to speak to his beloved. He also eagerly gossips about his friends and the idiosyncrasies of their friendships and misadventures.
Jarin’s observations of the lives of others are also quite revealing of his own character. One day as he babysits a young niece, he sees just outside the window a neighbor attacking one his friends, Ali, with insults. Jarin discovers in the course of the brutal tirade of the neighbor that Ali and his old parents are squatters from Visayas, and their poverty forces them to remain quiet in the face of cruelty: they have no power to defend themselves, much less fight back. Jarin is deeply sympathetic, and he recognizes the commonness of Ali’s plight among so many Filipino youth denied of chances and opportunities. After all, he himself was almost like Ali were it not for the cohesiveness of his family.
In closing this essay, the author without hesitation expresses thanks to his aunt and uncle and the rest of his adoptive family. This is another noticeable thing about Jarin: he shows no bitterness or regret in his recollections. The bad or sad events are acknowledged as such, but without rancor; he even appears to have been grateful for them because they helped to shape his character and influence his philosophy of survival, resilience and compassion.
Service Crew and Baclaran
In these two narratives, Jarin explores the working class world and its denizens. In the first, he shares his struggles at landing a job. Though he is now a teacher of economics and Philippine history, Jarin’s first joined the labor force as a slave for various fast food restaurants, alternately working for them as a waiter, a busboy, fry cook and janitor. A hard worker and a quick learner at his tasks, Jarin gives a crash course on the life of the people who serve our food.
Still, “Service Crew” , despite the strong thread of humor that runs through it, is a somewhat grim narrative. Though it is clear that he is intellectual, Jarin’s circumstances and the myriad limitations of a society that undermines the welfare of its youth and workers forced him to undergo virtual slavery for pittance wages. There is a veiled anger behind his words, a refusal to show gratitude for being employed when so many others are not: why should he be grateful when it is precisely the responsibility of the government to ensure that its citizens are provided work and means of living? There should be more and better paying jobs.
“Baclaran”, on the other hand, is deeply more personal. In sweeping strokes, Jarin tells the end of his marriage and his pain at having to be separated from his two young children, the youngest of whom he will lose in two years’ time. Again, he requires no sympathy or pity, but the reader cannot help but give it. Jarin leaves his suddenly broken family’s rented house and in his desperations ends up living with four gay men in a rundown apartment Airport Road near Baclaran.
One cannot help but find humor in the situation as Jarin admits his earlier fear that he might be taken advantage of. Immediately after, however, what develops – within three short months—are friendships that Jarin is compelled to never forget.
Jarin is good at describing people and their individual uniqueness, the way they look and laugh, and how they unconsciously reveal their longings and deep-seated fears. Heis both shrewd and compassionate in his observations, seeing the flaws in others as he sees his own, but without making judgments.
As to his own marriage that self-destructed, he keeps the reasons to himself, and the reader senses that the conscious effort to do so is connected to his urgent need to protect his children.
Anim na Sabado ng Beyblade
This may well be the hardest essay Jarin has ever written in his life. In fact, it is most likely the hardest he will ever write regardless of how many other books he is likely to produce in his entire career.
The crucial importance of this other Palanca Award-winning essay is already evident: it is, after all, the title of the collection. Here, Jarin is a young father whose second child, the precocious four-year old Rebo Lean, falls gravely ill and eventually dies of acute lymphocytic leukemia.
The narrative is emotion barely controlled but reigned in nonetheless. The words flow like tears of one who knows that grief is endless: it stops and starts and stops again at moments when even a happy memory wounds like the sharpest knife. It is a narrative full of a father’s despair, but it is also a one that describes courage: that of Rebo Lean, the little boy who even in pain greater than even his own innocence and laughter chose to still make his father smile. One senses the effort Jarin made to write it as it is both a loving tribute to his little boy and an effort to keep him alive if only through words.
The personal as political
In the end, Jarin’s essays are political. Political in the sense that that they prove how writing and reading Philippine literature in Filipino (or any other Philippine language) should be encouraged. The essays are innately reflections of the lives of ordinary Filipinos by one ordinary Filipino who has the extraordinary gift of turning his seemingly mundane experiences into compelling stories of real life. The essays are also social commentaries on how life is in this country forsaken by its leaders; how so many men and women struggle to make ends meet, build lives with dignity for their families even in the midst of want and extreme circumstances. The publisher Visprint should be commended for publishing Jarin’s work and for exerting effort to popularize it. Through it all, Anim na Sabado ng Beyblade is an intelligent read, graceful and remarkable.