MY COLLEGE days may not have been that remarkable but an English literature book introduced me to the remarkable and memorable stories of Quijano de Manila, I devoured May Day Eve, Three Generations, The House on Zapote Street. And even Candido's Apocalypse though to my young mind, it was the most confusing, difficult, pornographic, god-awful thing I've ever read. Afterward, I discovered that the literary world of Nick Joaquin isn't a delicate, pretty-in-pink, powder-puffed universe.

One may argue, how could his universe be pretty-in-pink - the man's a man, for Pete's sake, so, of course, he'd write like a man. Yet, two decades later, in a Masters class on Literary Criticism focusing on Feminism, I'd find out that Nick Joaquin was the ultimate feminist. He was a man ahead of his time as he often presents his women as strong, independent-minded, and modern. In May Day Eve, Agueda was a fiery senorita who spitefully enchanted the European-educated and very drunk Badoy Montiya, bit his hand, and scarred his heart. Summer Solstice, which would later be a Tikoy Aguiluz-directed Tatarin for the big screen, showed the tough role of womanhood in Philippine society mula noon hanggang ngayon.

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Now, let me share with you an excerpt from Three Generations.

His wife came nearer and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Why will you not let him have his woman again, Celo? He does not have very long to live."

He stared at her fiercely. "Please do not be vulgar, Sofia", he growled, but his wife only smiled.

For all the years they had lived together, he was still startled by a certain nakedness in his wife's mind; in the mind of all women, for that matter. You took them for what they appeared: shy, reticent, bred by nuns, but after marriage, though they continued to look demure, there was always in their attitude toward sex, an amused irony, even a deliberate coarseness; such as he could never allow himself, even in his own mind or with other men.

It would be nice to take Joaquin out to dinner and pick his brains, wouldn't it? Born in 1917 in Paco, Manila, he managed to be recognized as writer of note in the Middle Period (1930-1960) together with important essayists Francisco Arcellana, Jorge Bocobo, A.T. Daguio, Leon Ma. Guerrero, J.M. Hernandez, Maria Kalaw-Katigbak, Jose P. Laurel, A.B. Rotor, and Jose Garcia Villa, among others. His book Prose and Poems (1952) was "voted as the most distinguished book in 50 years of Philippine Literature in English." His durability and proficiency as a writer also saw him through the Modern Period (1960-1974) where flourished the works of Ninotcha Rosca, Cirilo F. Bautista, Gregorio C. Brillantes, Linda T. Casper, Gilda Cordero-Fernando, NVM Gonzales, Jose Quirino, Edilberto and Edith Tiempo, and Kerima Polotan Tuvera, among others.

Over dinner or even just tapas, we could discuss his stories and I'd tell him how much his works had influenced my thinking. He'd order beer, of course. "Say, Mr. Joaquin, heard that you can't write without having a drink or two."

Do you think he'd feel insulted by that opening statement and leave without telling me why he ended The House on Zapote Street so violently? I like happy endings, you know. (Sulk.) Or, maybe he'd just laugh it off and say with shades of Tallulah Bankhead, "Everything you've heard about me is true, senorita." Really, Mr. Joaquin, including how you can talk, oh, so endlessly like Pablo Cabading and, in effect, become the cynosure of all eyes in the dining room? That's good news, sir. I'm not much of a talker anyway. Besides, I heard that when you talk, everybody listens.

By the way, sir, I teach at a vocational school where many students come from a world so distant from my own that they can't write a decent sentence in English. Por vida, how they graduated from primary school is beyond me. Yet, when I had to choose only one short story in English written by a Filipino to inspire them and to show them what great stuff Pinoys have between the ears, I chose the most riveting I could think of - The House on Zapote Street. Done in a straightforward manner and in a journalistic style, it is a contemporary work they can relate to than if they had read your 1949 Guardia de Honor set in the Spanish era, award-winning though it was. They hadn't heard of Nick Joaquin before, you see, but they do now - as well as new words such as "smoulder", "natty", "inarticulate", "acquiescence", and "amiable" among a gazillion from your inexhaustible supply of the English vocabulary.

I made sure they researched on you. Now, they know that you are a National Artist for Literature, a Stonehill Awardee (1960), Palanca awardee (1957-58), had published at least 20 books and countless essays. Well, I told them that you had an obsession with reading. But, please, I never, never told them that you were bored with school and dropped out after only 3 years of secondary school.

So, sir, are you appalled at the way our proficiency in the English language had deteriorated? How frustrated you must be over the inability of this generation to express themselves in the language that we Filipinos are supposed to be fluent in. Pray, tell me, will you weep over the state of English in our country now? Wait till you read about politics in the Philippines.

In your brave essay What Signified the Expatriates?, I was fascinated by the life of our paisanos in Madrid in the last three decades of the 19th century. What a titillating melange of historical data and gossip! Imagine our

revolucionarios enjoying the chulas (sexy girls) and "living it up at the cafes" in between fighting for our freedom. And all those sordid details that shattered the common impression that Lopez Jaena was a real hero when indeed he was a coward and a slob who feared coming home to the Philippines because of the sullied reputation his unstable character created. You wrote that he proclaimed, "Before a Filipino and an Indio, I am a Spaniard." And that his famous vociferous orations were veiled in personal motives - pure vanity, and vindictiveness. And Rizal was a snob? Did he really contemptuously exclaim, "The true Madrileno is disappearing from day to day: there is nothing left but the common people, the canaille to be found in the mud and hovels of Madrid. Everytime I think of this society I imagine the common people as dung ground." Whoo-hoo!!! Don't you just wish that Rizal were still alive today? Uhm, and you, too, of course, Mr. Joaquin. You'd be delighted to know that present-day politics is replete with, ahem, very interesting materials for your journalistic profession.

I wonder if Mr. Joaquin and I would ever get to enjoy dinner or tapas in peace. I bet he'd have a lot of friends from all of walks of life disturbing our meal often. Even if he knew a lot of high-fallutin' words being poet, playwright, essayist, and biographer, he never lost the common touch. Remember, he wrote Nora Aunor and Other Profiles, Ronnie Poe and Other Silhouettes, Amalia Fuentes and Other Etchings, Gloria Diaz and Other Delineations, and Language of the Street and Other Essays. I find him so masang-sosyal that I can imagine him saying "chuvaness" with much, well, chuva. Let's drink to that!