Thursday, 29 December 2011

FROM THE ATTIC TO THE MANSION


Tales from the Attic was the debut novel of the Carmona based writer, Savia Viegas. One may recall the review I had done of the same in this very newspaper a few months ago. Five years after her first novel, Savia Viegas has returned with another novel called Let me tell you about Quinta. The rigors and travails of self publishing, it seems, has taught an unforgettable lesson to Savia as her first book did reflect a certain rawness in its binding and printing. But her second book is published by a multi-national publisher is neatly packaged. Publishing matters apart, Let me tell you about Quinta would be welcomed by all the Goan bookworms!
            Savia’s second book on some levels seems to be a sequel to the first and at other times gives the impression of being a prequel. Call it a sequel, a prequel or whatever; this novel fills in the many gaps from the previous one. Tales from the Attic, it was noticed, ended abruptly. Quinta seems to be making up for every detail that was left out in the first book.
            In the true sense of the term, there is no protagonist in the story. Mari (spelt Marri in the first book) is no longer the main character (which is why I doubt this book is a sequel). Some parts of her second novel will only be understood clearly if the reader has acquainted him/herself with Savia’s first book. However, a sprawling mansion called ‘Quinta’ is where the whole story unfolds. If one may be permitted to expand the scope of the definition of ‘protagonist’, then Quinta, in a way, becomes the ‘protagonist’. It is an old, dilapidated house that is mired in litigation for many years. Yet the crumbling edifice does not lose its monetary value for there are repeated attempts to buy/appropriate the property.
             The book opens with the arrival of California, Mari’s son Suraj’s Russian-American wife, to Carmona. In connivance with Suraj (or Sun as he is known), she arrives with a hope to usurp Quinta along with the property, which Queirozito (same as Tito of the previous book) had so painfully won through litigation. The role of California just seems to be a very short one being that of a usurper with no major consequence on the overall story. Since she fails in circumventing the alert Queirozito, she flies back to America empty-handed.
            In this novel, the genealogy of the maternal and paternal family of Mari is explored in greater detail. Quinta brings all the skeletons in the cupboard and sins of the landed family in the open. The conflict between the bhatkars and the mundkars is a theme that is constantly running through the novel. Although attempts are being made to bring this theme to life, enough, it is felt, is not done by the narrative. A critique of the position that the bhatkars and the mundkars occupied could have been woven in the narrative. Tish Ximeao, a bhatkar, laments about the mundkars not tilling their lands and going off to the Gulf to clean the “…toilets of Arabs.” We all hear such tirades, in one form or the other against the migrating Goans, a major chunk of who were presumably from the lower-caste Catholics. And this resentment could be located to emanate from this class of landed, upper-caste bhatkars. This binary division of a village society into a landed class and a non-landed, tilling class leaves out the caste factor that influenced (historically speaking) the acquisition – or rather – the usurpation of land in the first place. It is this caste equation that had the scope of being discussed in this novel.
            There are a host of lovable and quirky characters in this book – some continuing from the old book and others newly introduced. It is when Savia constructs the characters of this novel and while describing the natural beauty and features of the village of Carmona that the writer is at her literary best. The book is actually a series of sections where the biography of each major character is discussed and there are these moments (just a few!) when one cannot help but notice some raw spots in the book. But because Savia has a way with words, one does not feel that the narrative drags or falls short in the literary department.
            This novel also touches upon all the major political events that occurred in the last hundred or so years. There is the mention of Fanchu Loyola, the ‘nationalist’ who fought for Goa’s independence from Salazar’s dictatorship, the liberation of Goa, the Tenancy Act whereby the landed class lost its power and finally to more recent times: the land grabbing by the rich and fat builders from the north and the metros. It is only the elite characters who are seen reacting to these political changes. But to me, the illnesses and eccentricities of the characters is what takes the novel forward rather than the immense political changes providing the reader with subtle, humorous moments.
            At the end of the novel, Robby the son of Piedade who was a mesti├žo orphan brought by Mari’s maternal grand-mother from an orphanage, returns back to Carmona, takes active part in local politics and goes on to win (with the ardent help of Preciosa, the mother of Mari) the panchayat polls! Robby is faced with conflicting situations where he is expected to check the many irregularities that take place in the village and comes out as a deeply disturbed and confused person. It is in the last few pages the author seems to lose her grip on some of the characters and their actions become hard to understand.          
But, all said and done, I enjoyed reading Let me tell you about Quinta for the way it is written. The prose and tasteful descriptions of the picturesque village can be an added incentive for a lazy Sunday afternoon.                                                                                                         

Let me tell you about Quinta by Savia Viegas (New Delhi: Penguin), 2011; pp. 254, Rs. 299/- [ISBN: 9781-0-143-41522-0] Web: www.penguinbooksindia.com 

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: December 30, 2011)

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