Monday, 21 May 2012

LOVE IN TIMES OF DECOLONIZATION

“Gõyank suttka mellunk thoddinch vorsam urlolim. Doxim vattamnim suttke zhuzari chollvolli choloytale. He chollvollintlo ek zhuzari aslo, Zuzart. To bhiyenastanam Purtugezam add zhogoddlo. Sogllo lok tachi toknnay kortale. Tachi toknnay aikonuch Catharina tachea mogant poddlem. Gõychi suttka korunk zhuztanam Zuzartan aplo jiv vompun dilo. Hech karonnank lagon ‘Catharina’ hem sobit nanv ‘Kotrin’ zalem,” [The Liberation of Goa was just round the corner. The Freedom Fighters were taking the movement forward. Amongst the many, Zuzart was one such Freedom Fighter who fought without any fear against the Portuguese. Everybody admired him and this public admiration made Catharina fall madly in love with him. Zuzart became a martyr while fighting for Goa’s freedom. It is due to this reason that a beautiful name like ‘Catharina’ became ‘Kotrin’] thus goes the intriguing and interesting in-flip cover blurb of Willy Goes’ latest Konknni novel in the Roman script. Smartly written, this blurb immediately sucked me right into the kadombori!
            ‘Kotrin’ is set against the background of the Liberation of Goa from the Portuguese and the language agitation to make Konknni the raj bhas of Goa. Kotrin actually is about two women. Though seemingly parallel, eventually they intersect: Catharina, the one who falls madly in love with a freedom fighter, of whom she has only heard about but has never set eyes upon and as a consequence loses her sanity and Venisha, an MA student of psychology who due to chance and academic interest starts investigating and probing the life of Catharina.
            The novel opens with Catharina/Kotrin being in a bad state of mental health where she thinks that she is pregnant with the child of her lover. Being a freedom fighter, Zuzart was being hounded by the Portuguese police and in particular by a tyrant called Agente Monteiro. As fate would have it, in the present times there is also another police inspector called Monteiro, whose daughter is Venisha. Since Kotrin knew that Agente Monteiro was the one who had killed Zuzart, she would curse this present-day ‘Monteiro’ on the streets in a loud voice. Once, during a public function Venisha hear Kotrin’s rants against ‘Monteiro’ and thinks that the woman is actually cursing her own father – Inspector Monteiro! This sets Venisha on a mission to find the truth about this insane lady. 
            Throughout the novel, Venisha is portrayed as comparing and contrasting her own life with that of Kotrin and sometimes their lives overlap. Venisha also comes in contact with Dr. Alvaro, a friend of Kotrin’s family and who also hails from the same village as Kotrin’s. Dr. Alvaro and his wife, whenever possible, try to take care of Kotrin, who by now is wandering the streets and sleeping in parks and bus stands. It is through Dr. Alvaro that Venisha learns about Kotrin: how she became what she became.
            We are told in the novel that Catharina’s infatuation and attraction towards Zuzart was only due to his bravery and dedication to the cause of the Liberation of Goa. Catharina had never seen Zuzart, but had only heard the villagers speak highly of him. Further in the novel we are told that such an obsession of Catharina is due to a childhood habit where she wanted anything that others praised and liked. In an otherwise well written and smoothly flowing novel, the characterization of Catharina should have been improved and elaborated. The reader would have liked an intense psychological portrait of Catharina as to why she behaves in a certain way. Certainly, here was the occasion to introduce a complex character, for it is the mental structure of Catharina that forms the keystone of the novel. That a childhood habit of obstinately wanting whatever others like/praised could lead to insanity is a notion weak in its conception.
            Since the novel is set against the background of such historically significant events like the Liberation of Goa and the language agitation, a few comments on such a genre of novels would not be out of place. It is heartening to see that writers in the Romi script of Konknni are experimenting with such models of narration. Hopefully, it would spawn more such novels. But using real historical events can be tricky. On one hand it gives one scope to comment on events like decolonization, contemporary politics (like in Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children) but on the other hand if the multiple voices of history are not recognized and understood properly, one runs into the risk of repeating anachronistic clichés in history.
            For instance, when Willy Goes talk about freedom fighters and the liberation movement, the idea is that everybody was against the Portuguese colonials. But this is not so. Many were just fighting against the dictatorship of Salazar and not against the Portuguese.
            The novel ends with the death of Kotrin. Venisha’s boyfriend is made to play the part of Zuzart since Kotrin, on her death bed, is longing to see Zuzart and everybody around her believes that she is hanging onto life for her last wish to be fulfilled. Though the death is somewhat dramatic, Willy however succeeds in touching our hearts. The ending of the novel – the way it is written – is expertly handled.
            Willy Goes is certainly a remarkable talent to the Romi Konknni world and doubtlessly, without his novels and other books, the corpus of Konknni literature would have been slightly deficient. An interesting aspect of this novel is the use of many Portuguese words when describing the time before the Liberation of Goa. These words were quite common in our speech a few decades ago and Willy Goes by using such words has produced a beautiful effect in the narration and dialogues.

Kotrin by Willy Goes (Panjim: Dalgado Konknni Akademi), 2012; pp. 135, Rs. 100/-; Phone: 91-0832-2221688

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: May 22, 2012)

Read the Konkani translation here