The Guardian of the UK recently published a listing of “10 of the best books set in Mumbai”. See Taking the cue from that listing, here’s a compilation of my own favourite ten novels set in Goa or her people.
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Lambert Mascarenhas, Sorrowing Lies My Land
Undoubtedly one of the most neatly-crafted novels written in colonial times, whose story still resonates. My edition dates back to the 1970 Goa Publications reprint (“Price Rs 15”).
“The mountain far away, wearing a cloak of muddy brown, stood there against the azure sky, ragged as a tramp drowsing in the noonday sun. The May heat seemed to have scorched the very roots of the trees on it — the heat, merciless and cruel, which also cracked our fields, blistered our feet and made us perspire profusely.”
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Peter Nazareth, The General Is Up
Damibia is a fictitious land-locked country in East Africa, in which a demented army general takes power and begins a brutal rule of surrealistic dimensions. Try telling any ex-Africander from Goa that!
“George (Kapa) was sometimes irritated by Goan hypocrisies. For example, he knew, although most Goans were very careful not to talk about it with him, that Goans thought the main prob Samajwadilem facing Africa was tribalism. They seemed to exempt themselves from the whole problem, as though they were not tribalist in their behaviour.”
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Orlando da Costa, O Signo da Ira
A novel published in Salazar-ruled Portugal, and hardly adequately noticed in post-1961 Goa. A not-so-romanticised image of the Goa that was. Its Margao-linked author wrote to me after we met long back: “Indeed, it was an obsession that travelled with me from Goa in September 1947. I was 18 years old. After some unsuccessful attempts, I gave up — I thought — until I was about thirty, thirty-one.”
“As the harvests of the vangana appear along the meadows and the wind ripples the green horizon, the still-damp earth shivers with an intense, fertile joy. Even the fieldworkers are dazzled by the sight. They feast their eyes on the stalks, patiently hoping that the grain will become so fat and golden that it falls of its own accord.” (Translated)
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Leslie de Noronha, The Dew Drop Inn
Another work that doesn’t get the attention deserved.
“The studio photographer, also gay, offered to do the oiling himself. Fortunately he had been warned by Armstrong to keep his hormonal churning under control, so Steve was quite safe and blissfully unaware of the photographer’s pleasant, if hard, reactions. The session went smoothly. The art pulls were an instant success with the white band of untanned skin looking very sexy.”
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Silviano C Barbosa, The Sixth Night
Linda Cardoso grows up in Portuguese colonial Goa, and this book gets its title from the Goan belief that the goddess who visits the child on her sixth night determines her fate forever.
“The natives of Australia and Canada have native rights and privileges because the White Europeans signed treaties with them. But in India, the Aryans never bothered about such treaties with native Shudras and made the whole country theirs.”
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Eusebio Rodrigues, Love and Samsara
This novel, set in 16th century India, blends “history, adventure, love and spirituality on the background of the arrival of the Portuguese, which caused a clash of civilizations”. 611 pages of finely set type.
“The stern Vasco da Gama, whom I had met in 1498, had changed into a butcher in the course of four years. Infuriated because the ‘pardesi’ Muslims had sacked the Portuguese factory in Calicut, he had exacted a hideous revenge. He lay in wait off Mount Eli for pilgrim ships returning from Jiddah.”
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Margaret Mascarenhas, Skin
Pagan Miranda Flores leaves America, her job and her lover, to journey back to Goa and learn of dark and distant family secrets.
“Once her cousin Carmen said to her, ‘You know, for someone who’s terrified of planes, you sure fly a lot.’ At the time, she had been working for an international news agency … jetting back and forth between the corporate office in San Francisco and the eastern and southern regions of Africa, where she reported on civil unrest in Angola and Mozambique and on the thousands of people killed and mangled by landmines.”
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Braz Menezes, Just Matata
Ten-year-old Lando sees Africa and boarding school life in Goa through his mischevious eyes; a charming story.
“‘Lando’, Mom calls out from the kitchen window, ‘Have you and Simba been creating the usual matata [trouble] for Mrs Gelani?’ ‘Of course not, Mom,’ I reply. ‘Dogs will be dogs. Simba simply loves Mr Gelani’s pyjamas.'”
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Belinda Viegas, The Cry of the Kingfisher
The story of three Goan women, already being recognised as a voice of feminist writing from this small region.
“I also felt guilty about Zarella. As if I was somehow responsible for her behaviour and that I should make up to Mama and Papa for whatever they felt was lacking in her. So that we could be a happy family again. It made me resolve to do my best and work as hard as I could.”
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Antonio Gomes, The Sting of the Peppercorns
Shades of Orwell, as the tumultuous Goa-Portuguese relationship of centuries gets reflected in the twists and turns of lovers, turmoil and tough times that come with drastic changes, distance and migration. Who wins? Who loses? If you expect the mere claims of victim-hood coming from a post-colonial society, this could surprise you.
“Paulo dropped the first bombshell: ‘I have no intention of assuming any position now under India; besides, I don’t know Indian or British law.’ He hurriedly continued looking at his mother and father and addressing his father. ‘I’m going to Portugal. I will need some financial support in the beginning. I give you my word in a year or two I will be on my own.'”
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