Reclaiming Recah’s ‘Lost River’

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SPORTS columnist Recah Trinidad signs copies of his second book, “Tales from My Lost River,” during the book launch held at Mandaluyong City Hall. INQSnap this page (not just the logo) to read the book’s first few pages. JOAN BONDOC

Unbeknownst to many, Recah Trinidad has another side to him.

To faithful readers of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Trinidad is the pithy columnist behind “Bare Eye” in the paper’s Sports section and one of the country’s most established sportswriters.

He was also the Inquirer’s first Metro editor. He is author of the award-winning 2006 book “Pacific Storm: Dispatches on Pacquiao of the Philippines.”

But Trinidad has long nurtured a vigorous literary side.  Ricardo “Recah” Trinidad won a Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for English Poetry in 1978 and writes fiction whenever he can.

This is the side that is evident with the release of “Tales from My Lost River” (illustrated by A.G. Austria, Merryland Publishing Corporation, Mandaluyong City, 2013, 62 pages), Trinidad’s novella about growing up along the Pasig River in what is now Mandaluyong City.

“Lost River” is brimming with nostalgia and mystery instead of sentimentality and mundanity. It began as a short story written in 1963.

Now, this fictionalized retelling features a much different Pasig River from the one we know today. It is also a portrait of the lives and locations surrounding this stretch of water. “Prodigious as the river was, it also hummed an endless hymn, more of a mother’s lullaby, straight from its bosom of virgin sand as it rolled from the mythical upper lake, emptying into the sunset bend towards Manila Bay.”

At the heart of “Lost River” is the eclectic, devout and enigmatic Itay Kayong, an old man who has survived the loss of his son to Japanese soldiers, and also considers himself the guardian of the river.

Trinidad unveils Itay Kayong as a man who is a cipher to most around him:

“Itay Kayong was tough but strange and could, in fact, appear like mere hearsay, a central figure in a barber’s tale. Left alone, he remained like an apparition by Rembrandt, a singular shadow dusted in bronze. There was an assuring little light, a glint of serenity in that nameless corner where he had dared live and love his own way.”

It is Itay Kayong’s grandson Francisco who begins to understand what lies hidden in the old man’s daily rituals. It is linked to the precious river.

When the initially deified President Ramon Magsaysay awards the quarrying rights to the river to a foreign company, Itay Kayong realizes with horror that it is the beginning of the end:

“The river did not get lost. It was stolen.”

In the process, village life is changed forever. “The fresh face of the riverside village had turned into a dry smirking mask.”

Fact and fiction

The identity of the person who claims the river in the book’s title is revealed at the book’s end, but it could easily be Trinidad himself, as “Lost River” clearly draws from his memories and the stories he’s heard while growing up in Mandaluyong.

With this sinigang of fact and fiction, devotion and distraction, “Lost River” touches on several fateful events in Philippine history—the narrative flitting here and there, from revolutionary controversy to the case of the captured Japanese straggler.

At book’s end, there are even notations that speak toward the authenticity behind what is a book of fiction. “Lost River” is thus an act of remembering, reclaiming Trinidad’s beloved river from oblivion.

All this works toward a display of the grizzled sportswriter’s sensitive side, as “Tales from My Lost River” celebrates the disparate elements that make up Trinidad’s personal and now published history, as he reminds readers that, like the mix found in the book, “(e)verything was related to everything else, no matter how distant, different.”

Available in paperback from National Book Store.

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