Sankoll, a novel by Bonaventure D’Pietro, one of Konkani’s great novelists, dwells on the theme of Goa’s bygone traditions in Christian marriages. This novel is a departure from the signature style of the writer who is well-known for writing thriller novels in Konkani. Often referred to as the James Hadley Chase of Konkani literature, D’Pietro has a unique novel to offer to his fans and lovers of Konkani in the form of Sankoll.
The story of the novel which tries to give its readers a glimpse of traditional Christian practices across Goa, unfolds through weddings in different regions of Goa: Bardez, Saxtti, Quepem, etc. The aim of the author is also to document the various practices, and hence a CD too of some traditional songs such as zoti, vers and saud is also appended to the book.
The author has taken immense pains to research (with the help of many others acknowledged in the book) minute details about his subject in the writing of the book. Indeed, the reader would be immediately transported to a time when weddings were celebrated by erecting a mattov (pandal) and everybody danced through the night with the aid of petromax lamps and the ever-obliging muzg (musicians or band). D’Pietro’s concern here is to narrate the step-by-step events leading to the marriage. This includes the seeking of life-partners through a raibari (match-maker) to the planning and preparation of food such as voddes and the end of the celebrations.
D’Pietro is much more comfortable when talking about the traditional practices of his native place and hence he is able to provide the reader with many sensory experiences when he talks about the preparation of food: how it smells, how it boils, how it looks and tastes and how it is eaten! A section where he deals with the making of soda in the bygone days is truly enjoyable as well. Thus, after reading the book the reader is able to get a fair representation of the traditional Christian wedding practices across Goa. The story flows freely and needless to say this novel is another great addition to the corpus of Konkani literature by one of Konkani’s finest writers.
This book, unwittingly or not, becomes a project of interrogating modernity (to use the term very broadly) as our traditions and our past is projected as having a quaint beauty and charm which gets ruptured in our contemporary (or modern) times. Thus, there is a definite separation between traditional practices of the past and those of the present. One gets the sense that this book looks at traditions as fossilized and ossified entities. But traditions always change and a project of interrogating modernity also should interrogate traditions or traditional way of life and vice versa.
If we are going to discuss the matrimonial traditions of the past one of the major issue that cannot be overlooked is caste. One need not look further than the matrimonial classifieds of today to realize the importance of caste. The author acknowledges the importance of caste in his preface when he is accounting for the differences in practices within different vaddes or wards in a village. But in the novel the categorization is regional rather than caste-based; aren’t and weren’t alliances sought on the basis of caste rather than region? Thus, what is the justification for a region-based classification?
The social standing of the family of the protagonist Isidor (also the narrator) is nebulous. One doesn’t really know where they are located in the hierarchy despite them owning a big house. D’Pietro has included the tribal Christian wedding as well, devoting an entire chapter to it. This chapter which contains the wedding of a person from the render (toddy-tappers) community does not specifically deal with unique practices of this community. Later in the book, the author very briefly hints at these differences when a gavddi woman (whom the author calls kunnbi) tells the narrator’s mother how certain practices of theirs differed from the community of narrator’s mother and how these practices have changed and there is no difference between them now (p. 245).
Isidor has four sisters and one of them gets married into a rich, landed family. The family of the narrator has to make a lot of compromises and sacrifices to accommodate the traditional practices of the landed, upper-caste family vis-à-vis their own. It is only here that notions of ‘purity and pollution’ are broached by the author. Isidor’s mother says, trying to explain to her husband why the rich wear gloves, “Those people wear gloves because, in the festive mood anybody can shake their hands at the function. They are aware that they can be polluted through such an act. To avoid this ‘pollution’ they wear gloves and simpletons like you consider them great.” Thus, if notions of ‘purity and pollution’ exist can we really talk about Christian weddings occurring in a Christian community?
This book comes with a wonderful CD as well giving a sample of how the vers, zoti etc. are sung. Obviously such a project of recording and documenting traditional practices should be welcomed with open arms. But tradition is not something that is confined only to the past; it lives in us and changes continuously.
Sankoll by Bonaventure D’Pietro (Ponnje/Panjim: Dalgado Konknni Akademi), 2013; pp. 348, Rs. 250/-; Phone: 91-0832-2221688 (Available at Dalgado Konknni Akademi, Panjim)
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: July 6, 2013).