Zorba, the Grecian Enchanter
Think of sun-kissed virgin beaches, aquamarine seas, blinding white adobe buildings sprouting out of hillsides- think Greece. And if you automatically connect it to modern literature and cinema, you will inevitably think of Alexis Zorba.
Nikos Kazantzakis, the creator of this memorable character, might be long gone, but the words on his epitaph- “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”- continue to ring true even amidst prophecies of hopeless doom, as embodied by exuberant Zorba. A man whose profligacy manifests itself in his generosity, Zorba symbolises freedom and the unshackling of the set beliefs that bind us so inexorably to familiarity and comfort.
The narrator of Zorba the Greek, having just parted from a close friend, is trying to build himself a new life, free himself from the books that have bound him so long. At a tavern, he is accosted by Zorba, who wheedles his way into accompanying him by promising to make him good soup and play his santuri. Zorba talks of his adventures and the rich life he has lived; his company seems promising. They go to Crete to pursue lignite mining, in the meantime finding themselves drawn into the affairs of the village.
Zorba enjoys wine and women, and takes full advantage of the charms of the latter; but his chivalry comes to the fore in his kindness to ‘Boubolina’ and the widow whom the entire Cretan village ostracizes. He spends his master’s money freely, buys presents for his mistresses when he is supposed to be obtaining materials for their business. Lest I should make him sound like a prurient old man, though, let me clarify that his life isn’t just about dissipation. With his innocence and childlike wonder, mingled with an innate wisdom, he endears himself to those whose lives he touches. His feelings effervesce within him until he can contain them no more- neither the santuri’s sanctity nor mere words will give them the release he craves for- and this is when he begins to dance like a man possessed. He dances with abandon, his energy throwing age and caution to the winds. He manages to convince his staid master, the ‘penpusher’, to look beyond books and live out the adventures he has only been reading of.
The lignite business comes a cropper, and all of Zorba’s ingenuity- bound with his enthusiasm- cannot save it. Remorseless, though, he moves on, taking his master along on the most exciting adventure of all- living. You cannot help but linger over Zorba’s words, and know deep down that somewhere, somehow, a lot of his ideas apply to you as well.