Thursday , 25 April 2019

A tale of three novels

Frederick Noronha

Since I collect books on Goa – any books, I have one in Japanese where I can read just a few more than two words – it becomes a kind of a game to keep track of what hits the market. Quite some time back, maybe almost two decades ago, the Other India Bookstore (which was more active then), became the bookshop with the most number of Goa books on one shelf. Later, Broadway, Golden Heart Emporium (Margao), DogEars and others entered this interesting if mostly unremunerative field.

In those times, there were only a few books on Goa available. Maybe 20-30 titles were in print; of these some were not so difficult to procure. (Remember that neither Amazon nor Flipkart existed in those times.) Because there were so few titles, the interest in the same was also limited. It was a chicken-and-egg situation: because there was so limited interest, few titles were being published too.

In those days, it was easy to overlook a Goa-related title, because they were scarce and hard to come by. Today, the boot is on the other foot. Because there are so many titles, it’s easy to miss a few. In my own case, I’ve postponed buying some of the costlier titles, planning to invest in more value-for-money books for now, and to pick up the pricey ones later.

A word of caution here: one could run into what I call the ‘Goa book syndrome’. When a new Goa book is published, hardly anyone seems to be aware of it; by the time potential readers get to know of it, it is already out of print, or difficult to find for some other reasons.

Recently, I ran into three titles, not all of which are new (but new in some way). Each one is written from quite a different perspective: one by a tourist visiting Goa (and describing her world), the second by a journalist and long-term resident of Goa, the third by a Goan who grew up here and, like many youngsters of his generation, forced to migrate out of the State to get a job suitable to his qualifications.

Don’t be too surprised if you’ve not heard of Linda Banana’s Hot Times in Goa. Part of the problem, of course, is because we, as a State, read so little. The other side of the story is that this book is marketed via and, that too, mainly as an ebook.

It’s interesting to see how a visitor sees your own home. Sometimes you agree with their view, sometimes you dislike what they say, and at other times one gets deep insights about something you yourself didn’t quite notice.

This is a description from the book’s site of Linda Banana’s book: “Traveller’s tale, psychiatrist’s chair, scorching sex story – Hot Times in Goa is all these and more. Lee Diana Habash’s diplomat husband dies, leaving her richer and hornier than expected. Among the coconut palms, she meets Rod, retired London villain, and embarks upon a stormy and steamy love affair. Goa is a state in social, political and sectarian upheaval. There are demonstrations against the new rail connection with Bombay. The Noble Order of Buffaloes is up in arms against the liberalisation of Goa’s annual carnival. The Hindu festival of Shivaratri is about to turn nasty. Contrary to Rod’s wishes, Lee supports her landlord’s daughter in a bid to become Carnival Queen, with explosive consequences.”

In 32 short chapters, Linda Banana (a pseudonym) takes us from the Gulf to Bombay to Goa. In Goa, there are chapters titled ‘Of Pigs and Men’, ‘Frogs, Fish, two Dogs and a Fox’, and more. Like some other tourist tales, this is set along the coastal belt, in South Goa this time. Colva. Linda Banana obviously knows the terrain, the timings, and the long-term friendships that tourists build with the host society.

This story is told from the vision, somewhat hedonist, of Euro tourists. The local society is depicted as simple, honest, devout, speaking Pidgin English, puritanical, family-oriented (if a bit hierarchy- and male-dominated). The tourists are themselves sometimes shown in an almost-comical light (for example, the Swedish tourist in Chapter 3). The tone struck one as feminist, of a woman knowing what she wants of life and is willing to pay the price for it. It strikes you as a novel written for the Brit charter tourist, but which a local resident might also see as a mirror to Goan society, even if a bit of a curvy mirror.

Second in the list was Sudeep Chakravarti’s ‘Once Upon a Time in Aparanta’ (Penguin, 2008), recently come out after being repackaged as ‘The Baptism of Tony Calangute’, through a new publisher (Aleph).

In 2008, the Hindustan Times highlighted the view that the book “captures the charm and follies, greed and grouses, colourful characters and peerless natural beauty of Goa.” At a function at 6, Assagao, the interesting centre for art and ideas just outside Mapusa last week, visitors and those who probably set up homes in Goa were also gushing about the book.

While the author says it is all fictional, even fiction can suffer from stereotypes and clichés. This is the Goa of the headlines of the 1990s, of crime, godfather-politicians, quaintly named places, Konkani-cussing locals, liquor, well-meaning but misguided campaigners, and the coastal villages of Bardez. Many of the characters seem barely disguised takes of local individuals, and the mix of fact and fiction can be a misleading one.

Contrasting to this book is another one, just out online ‘Fair-Weather Brother’ (Notion Press, 2018). As the blurb says: “Charlie’s grandfather and two village drunks were the only people present at Colva beach when the first hippie reached Goa. His father also enjoyed the tourism boom. Now Charlie’s broke. Reality, as he knows it, is constantly changing. With no profit left in the beach business, Charlie and his brother are now forced to leave Goa. In the space of two strange days, this novella follows Charlie’s trip through visions and nightmares caused by psychotropic conversations.”

As is obvious, this story is told from inside-out, how someone from Goa sees and encounters the outside world. I am waiting for my copy to reach, but I can say (thanks to a sneak peak) that the book is unlike many ‘fictional’ works that we in Goa are used to reading. About Goa.

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