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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

A beautiful secret: Gabo and the daughter he named Indira

Eight years after this death, a report has brought to life a secret closely guarded by Gabriel García Márquez, of a child he had with Susana Cato in the 1990s. Here's the story of Indira, the lost daughter

Written by Paromita Chakrabarti , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: January 28, 2022 11:23:58 pm
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a giant of 20th-century literature who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, died on Thursday, April 17, 2014, at his home in Mexico City. He was 87. Garcia Marquez in Mexico City in 1976. (Photo: Alan Riding/The New York Times)

During the course of conversations with his biographer Gerald Martin, whose Gabriel García Márquez: A Life (1998) chronicles the extraordinary life and career of the Nobel Prize-winning Colombian writer, Márquez once remarked, “All human beings have three lives: public, private, and secret.”

Eight years after his death in April 2014 at the age of 87 years, Márquez’s own secret life came to light recently when the Colombian newspaper El Universal de Cartagena published a news report, confirmed to The Associated Press by two relatives of the writer, about a closely guarded family secret — Márquez’s child with Mexican writer and journalist Susana Cato, with whom he had an extra-marital relationship in the 1990s.

The daughter, Indira Cato, now in her 30s, is a documentary film producer based out of Mexico City. Márquez, who was married to Mercedes Barcha for over 57 years, also had two sons with her, Rodrigo and Gonzalo García Barcha.

The confirmation

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In an article published in El Pais, Gustavo Tatis Guerra, the journalist who broke the identity of Gabo’s daughter, wrote, “On the day of Gabriel García Márquez’s death, on Maundy Thursday, during that April of brilliant light and omens near the ocean in San Antero, someone alluded to an unconfirmed rumour that the author of One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967) had a daughter, and that it was a closely guarded secret…It was a rumour that resurfaced suspiciously during García Márquez’s funeral and memorial at the Palacio de las Bellas Artes in Mexico City, and remained in the air like a wind that opens and closes doors, without bringing credible reason or verifiable information.”

Guerra went about confirming the news with Márquez’s trusted biographers Martin and Dasso Saldívar, and it would be the latter who would offer the proof, courtesy Márquez’s long-time friend, Guillermo Angulo.

Yet, when Guerra approached immediate members of the family for confirmation, he was met with a wall of silence. It would only be after the death of Barcha in 2020, that the family would confirm that they knew of and kept in touch with Indira — and had not spoken of it in Barcha’s lifetime to spare her the heartbreak.

A woman takes a photograph of her daughter in front of a makeshift shrine to Gabriel Garcia Marquez in his hometown of Aracataca, Colombia, April 19, 2014. For the Nobel Prize-winning author, who died last week, Aracataca served as a model for his fictitious town of Macondo in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” (Photo: Meridith Kohut/The New York Times)

Who is Susana Cato?

Susana Cato first met Márquez, one of the most significant literary figures of the 20th century and the writer of novels such as Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1981), Love in the Time of Cholera (1985) and Autumn of the Patriarch (1975), when she enrolled for the screenwriting workshop that he taught at the International Film and TV School of San Antonio de los Baños in Cuba in the early Nineties.

Márquez had already won the Nobel Prize by then and was feted the world over for his exposition of magic realism. Over 30 years his junior, Cato was a talented student and aspiring scriptwriter who, according to the El Pais article, worked on the plot for Carlos García Agraz’s short film, El espejo de dos lunar (The Two-Moon Mirror), that had a screenplay by Márquez.

The Nobel laureate also partnered with Cato and Eliseo Alberto Diego to co-write the script of Con el amor no se juega (Don’t Play with Love, 1991), directed by Carlos García Agraz, José Luis García Agraz, and Tomás Gutiérrez Alea.

Guerra writes that Cato also interviewed Márquez for the Mexican magazine Cambio in 1996. Even though Márquez never publicly acknowledged his relationship with her or Indira, he kept in touch with the Catos till the end of his life. Now 61, Cato, the author of two books, both published during the pandemic, lives in Mexico City.

Indira, the lost daughter

In his article, Guerra recalls Saldívar speaking of a photograph of Márquez with Indira that he had come across. “The smile of happiness he had with the girl on his knees, I’ll never forget it,” he had confided in Guerra.

Even though Indira adopted her mother’s surname and never mentioned her father, in private, Márquez was deeply invested in his daughter’s life. It was he who gave her the name Indira, a tribute to former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, with whom he shared a bond of mutual admiration, and at whose invitation Márquez had accompanied his friend and Cuban President Fidel Castro to the Non-Aligned summit in New Delhi in 1983.

Guerra writes in the El Pais article, “In choosing a name for her, he ruled out Virginia, which had been on the edges of his conscience since the 1970s, and instead chose Indira, in honour of Indira Gandhi, who he met in 1983 and who was the first head of state to call and congratulate him when he won the Nobel Prize in October 1982.”

In studying dramatic literature and theatre at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, Indira Cato shares the creative interests of her parents. After working as a feature writer with an online publication, in 2020, she debuted as a documentary film producer with Arturo González Villaseñor’s Llévate mis amores (Take my love with you), that looks at Mexican women volunteers who stand by railroads to offer food to migrants across train windows.

The film, for which she had also co-written the screenplay with Villaseñor, won several awards. Indira is now working on another documentary called Las hijas del maíz (Daughters of the corn).

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