Blood, nemesis and misreading quite what makes Goan society tick (book review)


Being trapped in the
immobility of their
social structures,
the Lusitanian supremacy
did not matter to the downtrodden.

[A review by: Lino Leitao lino.leitao at]

Blood & Nemesis by Ben Antao
Goan Observer Private Limited
Pages 318, Rs 250. Goa 2005.

Ben Antao’s ‘Blood and Nemesis’ is a historical novel. In this
novel, the author attempts to recapture Goa’s freedom struggle from
Portuguese colonial rule. In doing so, he gives us insights into
Goan psyches of both the Hindus and Catholics — the two main
sectors of the Goan population.

In the very first chapter of the novel, we are introduced
to Jovino Colaco, a young constable in Goa’s colonial
police force at Margao. Jovino’s character is very
vividly drawn, as if the author had known such a
character personally; and many a Goan freedom fighter
might have come across such a lout in those days of their
struggle to free Goa from Salazar’s tyranny.

Though Jovino is a bonehead with nothing much of substance, he is
shrewd enough to use his position as a police constable to acquire
money by graft, harassing the drivers of carreiras — the busses of
those colonial times. He has huge appetites for booze and sex; and
of course, he likes card games, gambling with his friends. For him,
dictatorship isn’t ugly; he has a nose to sniff out freedom
fighters. His boss, Gaspar Dias, a fearsome detective, likes him
for that, and promotes him as his assistant. And Jovino, who spends
more money than he earns, sees it as an opportunity to make a lot
of cash to support his tainted lifestyle. He is happy; the
promotion goes to his head.

Jovino’s sexual exploits introduce us to the Devdasi cult at
Mardol. (Devadasi refers to temple-based prostitution, which
existed till the early part of the 20th century. In Goa, a devdasi
was also called Bhavin, or the one with devotion.)

Antao draws vibrant and titillating sexual performances;
and Kamala, a family devdasi, a steady sexual partner of
Jovino, an expert in innovative Kamasutra poses, knows to
give and take sexual pleasures for herself. But at the
same time, a reader might question, as I did, how this
kind of degrading humiliation of the woman came to be
sanctified in the Hindu religion?

June 18, 1946 is a historic date in Goa’s history. On this day, Dr.
Juliao Menezes, a Goan, and Dr. Rammanohar Lohia from what was then
still British India lit the torch for civil liberties at Margao,
defying the ban on the freedom of speech.

Santan Barreto, Jovino’s nemesis, who was only eighteen years old
then, was on the scene. Seeing Juliao and Lohia hustled into a
Police jeep and driven to the Police station, had an effect on
Santan’s soul. It awakens to freedom.

Santan dreams going to college in Bombay, and participate in
politics after India’s independence. But his ambition is shattered
when his father, a seaman, passes away on board the ship. Having no
one else to support his ambition, he pursues his dream by becoming
a ‘social worker’ — a euphemism for joining the ranks of the
unemployed. He runs errands to get in touch with the like-minded
Hindus to bring in freedom and democracy. He could have easily got
a job in the colonial administration; but being the zealous Goan
patriot that he was, he couldn’t compromise his principles. Nor do
we see the like-minded Hindus offering him a job in their
businesses that they owned.

Santan, an ardent idealist, whose soul burns fervently to usher in
freedom and democracy to the Goans, has no scruples, whatsoever, to
freeload on his mother’s meager widow’s pension. The poor woman, to
make the ends meet, works her fingers to the bone laboring in the
fields owned by others.

Santan, when released after Liberation from the Aguada
jail doesn’t rush back to his mother, the mother who had
sacrificed her own needs and fed him on her paltry
widow’s pension, when he was a ‘social worker’. Instead,
we see him basking in ‘hero worship’, for a week at
Vaicunto Prabhudesai’s, a like-minded Hindu and a fellow
political prisoner from Aguada jail.

The author portrays Santan, a freedom fighter, as an impulsive
individual with no ability to control his anger when enraged. The
reader will come across two incidents in the novel. One: a glass of
pale amber liquid, which is Santan’s urine, which he arrogantly
demands Jovino drink. Why? If you read the novel, you’ll know the
answer to it.

The other incident is when Santan snatches the revolver from
Jovino’s holster. These are impulsive and sporadic acts, not worthy
of freedom fighters. Committed freedom fighters to the cause plan
their acts carefully and execute them to get the desired results.

After Liberation, Santan and Vaicunto, their self-importance puffed
up as Goa’s liberators, rush to settle scores with Jovino. The
author, in the end, renders a debauched Jovino, on his dying bed,
as a better human being than those two vengeful liberators.

Subtly, the author exposes the conceitedness of Santan.
One gets the impression that the author must have known
such a character like Santan personally too, the way he
draws out his hidden traits of his personality.

The plot though unfolds around these two main characters — Jovino
Colaco and Satan Barreto, other fascinating characters also pop up
in the narrative, giving us the overall view of Goa’s life in those
colonial times under the dictatorship of Salazar.

Unsubstantiated historical perceptions are thrown into
the story, sometimes they come through the mouth of the
characters, or sometimes injected by the author himself.
For example in pages 21 and 22, we read: “He (Gaspar
Dias, Jovino’s boss in Police Force) was convinced that
the political sympathies of Goan Hindus definitely lay
with India…. The younger generation of Hindus, if you
cared to ask them, would say without hesitation that they
wanted freedom from colonial rule; they wanted Goa to
become a part of India. As for the Catholics, by and
large, they tried to be good citizens….”

Gaspar Dias can be excused for such analysis of the Goan society of
that time, he being a mestico, might not have ever assimilated the
intricacies of Goan nationalism.

Again, in page 110 the author probes the thoughts in Santan’s mind.
The author writes, “…But he (Santan Barretto) was also aware that
many Goan Catholics somehow had been brainwashed into thinking they
were different from other Indians, that they were superior because
of their Western ways of life.”

We can make allowances for Santan too, and overlook his assumptions
of this nature because the author has portrayed him as an impetuous
freedom fighter; impetuous persons do not use their brain muscle
but their emotions.

But it’s historically fallacious inferences to assume that Goan
Hindus were pro-Indian because of their religion, and that Goan
Catholics were pro-Portuguese. The civil rights movement that was
launched in 1946 was launched due to the endeavors of Dr. Juliao
Menezes, who was a Goan and baptized Catholic, though he might have
been an agnostic later on in his life.

In that civil rights movement, many Goan Catholics participated. To
name only some important ones: Tristao da Cunha, baptized Catholic,
though atheist later on; Berta de Menezes Braganca, baptized
Catholic, perhaps atheist later on; Evagrio George, baptized
Catholic; Aresenio Jaques, baptized Catholic; Critovao Furtado,
baptized Catholic and many, many others.

Jose Inacio Candido de Loyola in Free Press Journal,
Bombay, September 26, 1946 sums ups this movement in this
fashion, “An attempt is being made in certain quarters to
create among the Catholic section of the Goan population,
the impression that Dr. Lohia’s movement is directed
against the Catholic religion. There is no truth
whatsoever in this propaganda. This movement has nothing
to do with any religion. It is a movement for all Goans.”

Goans always struggled to break the fetters that bounded them, and
the author brings to our mind at page 95 the Pinto’s rebellion that
took place in the summer of 1787. Weren’t they Catholics?

Francisco Luis Gomes, in his maiden speech in the Portuguese
Parliament (18th January 1861), spoke: “… but far better models
are the sacred principles, which in a free government require that
hundred of persons should not be deprived of their political
rights, of rights through which they share in the creation or
exercise the political powers, simply because they had the
misfortune to be born in the overseas colonies.” (Dr. Francisco
Luis Gomes, 1829-1869, by Inacio P. Newman, Coina Publications Goa,

And again, Menezes Braganca, when Acto Colonial was incorporated in
the Political Constitution of Salazar’s Dictatorship in 1930,
repudiated the mentality of the Act, “Portuguese India does not
renounce the right of all peoples to attain the fullness of their
individuality to the point of constituting units capable of guiding
their own destiny, for it is a birthright of its organic essence.”
(Menezes Braganza, Biographical Sketch)

At page 21, the author, while probing into the mind of Gaspar Dias,
writes: “…(Gaspar Dias) knew that the older Hindu businessmen
mostly paid lip service to the Portuguese administration in order
to make a living — and some became wealthy in the newly booming
mining industry of iron and manganese ore.”

The Goan Hindu businessmen, tradesmen and landlords
weren’t that naive; they knew which sides the winds were
blowing. Goa was their personal fiefdom without an
economic base. They understood that the economic power
that they were holding would slip away from their hands
if Goa integrated with free India, which had an economic

So, they organized a public assembly in Margao (O Heraldo, July 30,
1946), and petitioned Salazar’s administration for autonomy for
Estado da India. Jose Inacio de Loyola gave the presidential
address. The others who spoke were Mrs. Krishnabai, the niece of
‘Bairao’ Dempo, Datta Naik, Francisco Furtado and Vicente Joao

Laxmikanta Bembro, making various observations, proposed a
committee of the following: Adv. Vicente Joao Figueiredo, Adv.
Polibio Mascarenhas, Manganlal M. Kanji, Adv. Panduronga Mulgaocar,
Adv. Francisco de Paul Ribeiro, Adv. Prisonio Furtado. Adv. Antonio
Xavier Gomes Pereira, Bascora Desai, Dr. Jose Paulo Telles, Adv.
Álvaro Furtado, Adv. Francisco Pinto Menezes, Adv Vinayka Sinai
Coissoro, Adv Datta Phaldessai, Dr. Krishna Sanguri and Laxmikanta
V.P. Bembro.

But their efforts did not bear any fruits. And again in
1961, Purushottam Kakodkar perused autonomy for Estado da
India, with no success. Gaspar Dias, the character in
Antao’s novel, who is a fearsome detective and obviously
based on Agente Casmiro Monteiro, seems to know nothing
about Goan native nationalism.

“The Goan people, for all practical purposes, have been pulverized
by these heinous acts of brutality; in effect, Goans had been
figuratively castrated over the years and rendered effete. And thus
in the course of time, generations of Goans had grown up
denationalized (p. 95).”

The above quote doesn’t come from any of the characters that abound
in the novel. This above statement is inserted in the narrative by
the author to remind us about the heinous acts of brutality
committed by the Portuguese conquerors on the Goan populace. No
historian will ever dispute the atrocities of the Inquisition, nor
the ruthlessness by which the Portuguese conquerors put down
rebellions, nor Salazar’s brutality in suppressing the genuine Goan
aspirations to free themselves from the colonial yoke.

But before the conquest, the most inhuman injustices were seared in
into the Goan collective psyche, through their religion and the
caste system. In their religion, there was the practice of sati —
burning the widows on the funeral pyre. Afonso de Albuquerque, the
Portuguese conqueror of Goa, stopped this barbaric practice. The
Devdasi cult, which the author depicts with all its dimensions in
the novel, was a part and parcel of that culture.

Dayanand Bandodkar, the first Chief Minister of Liberated
Goa, sought to put the Devdasi practice to end a few
decades ago. The caste system, in its evil designs, had
contucares (the village servants) system and the manducar
(serfdom) system incorporated into it. These deep layers
of subjugation implanted into the Goan society before the
conquest ‘pulverized and figuratively castrated’ the
collective psyche of the Goans.

Being trapped in the immobility of their social structures, the
Lusitanian supremacy did not matter to the downtrodden. Their main
pressing concern was to eke out a living. The rural uneducated had
no luxury of thinking for themselves. Goan journalist Frederick
Noronha writes in one of his essays, “a society which has no chance
to think for itself is an enslaved society”.

Though they were enslaved and servile and branded as denationalized
because of the Lusitanian influences that made a way into their
soul, they were never de-Goanized. They carried a love for Goa in
their soul wherever they went to make a better living; and now in
the present, we are the witnesses of Little Goas blossoming in all
corners of the world.

The central theme of the novel is expressed through an Australian
folk song:

Freedom isn’t free
You’ve to pay the price
You’ve to sacrifice
For your liberty

Goans were paying the price and making sacrifices to break the
chains that bound them. They were imprisoned in Aguada, Peniche,
Azores and Africa; and they were brutalized and their liberties
were taken away. But Nehru’s administration, discarding Gandhi’s
credo of non-violence, invaded Goa on December 18, 1961, thereby
robbing Goans of their right to seize their own freedom from
Portuguese colonial rule. One can only hope that the Liberation
that was handed to the people on the platter helps them to empower
and bring the control of the economy of the land into their own

‘Blood and Nemesis’ is a thought-provoking novel. The various
contradictions that the author introduces through his characters,
or his personal comments, in the narrative are debatable issues.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lino Leitao grew up in Salcete, Goa, and was a
young man when Goa transitioned out of Portuguese colonial rule. He
subsequently migrated to Canada, where he is currently based.
Leitao is the author of ‘The Gift of the Holy Cross’. His
manuscript of short stories is at present being readied for
publication. He can be contacted via email at lino.leitao Goan Observer, which also published this book, earlier
printed an abridged version of this review in its issue of August
20, 2005.

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