Saturday, July 11, 2009
Bob Ong's latest book, Kapitan Sino, explores the fleeting nature of heroism and what it takes to be a hero. Is it the name, the costume, the superpowers, good intentions that make a hero?
Set in the second half of the 80s, the book features a protagonist, Rogelio Manglicmot, who has an electronics repair shop where during a black-out, his friend Bok-bok discovers an electric bulb lit overhead and a soldering gun still working in his hand.
Rogelio and Bok-bok goes into a friendly discussion on what the hero's name should be. Another friend, blind Teng (who wanted to be called Tessa because she is now a young woman) provides Rogelio with the hero's costume cobbled from used clothes and things sent over from the US by her aunt.
With the help of Bok-bok, Rogelio explores his new persona with trepidation as he fails to foil a bank hold-up in his first official act as a hero. His exploits soon involve fighting monsters, criminal elements, rescuing people from around the globe, among others. The costume soon becomes wrapped up in the synergy of a hero that even Rogelio's old rubber shoes become his lethal weapon.
Bob Ong nips the romance of Rogelio and Tessa in the bud and this becomes a turning point in the life of Rogelio as he devotes most of his time in heroic feats, neglecting his repair shop and family in the meantime. Rogelio's grumpy invalid father gives him a man-to-man talk which brought him back to earth.
What follows is a series of events that unfold to Rogelio and the reader the fleeting nature of heroism (very funny is the awarding of P30,000 prize by a local politician for Kapitan Sino and a number of Kapitan Sino poseurs show up to claim it). For Rogelio, there is no other way to be hero when a pandemic a la AH1N1 strikes his locality and discovers for himself what it takes to be hero.
Very deftly, Bob Ong gives us a novel that makes us laugh and in between laughs, makes us ponder the intricacies and implications of being a hero. His funny descriptions of the people in Rogelio's neighborhood (two neighbors, with OFW hubbies, on a competition as to who's got the best appliances, community projects that get talked to death but never acted on) are spot-on and embarrassingly personal. Kapitan Sino's exploits that fail (like that scene after he saves a train, among the passengers, a wife discovers her husband with another woman and Kapitan Sino gets blamed for the ensuing domestic dispute or that homage to the first Superman movie where Kapitan Sino rescues a cat from a guava tree, but inadvertently burns it to a crisp) make us realize that sometimes good intentions are not enough to be a hero.
Bob Ong's avid readers will surely have a field day discovering new quotable quotes which may soon become platitudes, but it is my sincere hope that they (including me) would take these words to heart and put them into action in our own lives.