Friday, December 23, 2005

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, 1969.)

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 foundation.

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 Figueiredo.

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 hands.

'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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1 comment:

blogholic said...

Nice info on books of Goa. Would like to know if there are any books on the inquisition of Goa by the portuguese


Get going Goa!