Monday, 17 June 2013

BETWEEN NATIONALISMS: OPERATION VIJAY AS THE ULTIMATE SOLUTION



A few weeks ago, while reviewing Suresh Kanekar’s autobiography (a large part of which dealt with the author’s experience during Goa’s freedom struggle) I had claimed that accounts and histories regarding Goa’s decolonization were viewed through a sacral veneer of nationalism and were hagiographical in the presentation of their narratives. However, I had also pointed out that Kanekar’s memoir could be used to think afresh about Goa’s decolonization. I shall continue to grapple with this theme in reviewing Shrikant Y. Ramani’s Operation Vijay: The Ultimate Solution.
            Ramani has attempted to give a blow-by-blow account of the Indian army’s action in Goa. He says that he has used both Indian and Portuguese sources. Using such multilingual sources is a requirement of methodology but the problem here is that Ramani is not critical of his sources. In many places he has, as admitted in the preface, “literally” reproduced entire documents or primary sources; one sometimes has no clue where Ramani is presenting/discussing his arguments and where he is reproducing his documentary source. The use of source material from the Indian and Portuguese sides, it must be mentioned, does help the reader in the corroboration of the events/incidents.

            19 December, 1961 was a momentous event not only for Goans but also for the international community led by the United Nations. A brief survey of the academic writings that were produced before and after 1961 (including an interesting essay by Oliveira Salazar, the dictator of Portugal) suggests that the debate has been either condemning/delegitimizing India’s claims or justifying them. But a critical engagement with these ideas and arguments is missing in the book. What we get is a rather simplistic, nationalist understanding from the perspective of the Indian nation-state. 50 years later, we need much more critical and probing reflection where, apart from the great leaders, statesmen, gallant soldiers and international politics, ordinary men and women – people who had/have diverse responses and experiences to the armed action of the Indian troops also find place in our histories. Ramani in his entire 420 pages does not even consider the insecurities and uncertainties felt by the population, but everywhere we are told that the “civilian population” gave a “welcome [to] the Indian troops…”           
            Another reason why Ramani’s leaning towards a nationalist paradigm of history is inadequate is how he understands and perceives the history of Goa. Firstly, Ramani glosses over the native contribution in the establishment of Portuguese rule in Goa, such as the help rendered by a certain Mhall Pai Vernekar. The Estado sustained for so long only because it was propped up time and again by native elites as well as the once wealthy casado (married Portuguese settlers) population. Thus, to trace a long, linear, monolithic trajectory wherein “…Albuquerque reconquered it [Goa from Adil Shah] on 25th November 1510 where they remained till the time of Independence of India and thereafter upto 19th December 1961when they were…forced to leave Indian soil forever” is found to be problematic. We also need to recognize that the New Conquests were incorporated in the Estado between 1763 and 1819. “Old Goa,” he says, “is a city of ruins but some relics of Portuguese architecture dating back to 16-17th centuries still survive.” A simple trip to Old Goa would prove otherwise.

            Ramani recognizes that “[t]oday India and Portugal…are trying to forget the dark pages in their historical past and learn lessons from history.” But relying entirely on statist sources and histories and not engaging critically with them, Ramani himself has, unwittingly or not, fallen into the trap of ‘forgetting history’. What on the other hand he ‘remembers’ is the same old textbook-narratives that we are all familiar with and thus, nothing new is contributed by the book.
            Ramani asserts that “this is not a book of historical fiction”; yet the footnotes, citations and bibliography do not conform to scholarly conventions which would make one question the veracity of what is written and the scholarly rigor put into the writing of the book.
            By trying to demonstrate that a nationalist paradigm of history is inadequate, my aim is not to delegitimize the sacrifices that many made for decolonization. On the contrary, what I am trying to put across is that to reduce the history of Goa’s decolonization solely to an episode of the action of the Indian army is a great disservice to the people of Goa and even Portugal, who at that time, let’s not forget, were under Salazar’s dictatorship. We need to recognize that although colonial relations have ended (with India’s armed action); the coloniality of relations still exists, as Fr. Victor Ferrao has demonstrated in his Being a Goan Christian.
Ramani’s book moves between the narratives of two nationalisms: Indian on one side and Portuguese on the other. But between these nationalisms, it appears that a lot of questions and stories have been glossed over. Rather than a history that is repetitive and cliché-ridden, we need to seriously think about bringing in fresh questions and perspectives.

 Operation Vijay: The Ultimate Solution by Shrikant Y. Ramani, 2nd Edn. (Panjim: Broadway Publishing House), 2012; pp. xviii+422, Rs. 495/- [ISBN: 9789380837376]  

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: June 18, 2013).

Monday, 10 June 2013

TEACHING TROUBLES


Savia Viegas, the author of two previous novels Tales from the Attic (2007, Saxtti) and Let Me Tell You about Quinta (2011, Penguin) has recently self published two graphic novels, Eddi & Diddi and Abha Nama. The latter, which deals with the life of a Goan Catholic college lecturer in the big and mean city of Bombay, is under review here.
            For those of us who have previously enjoyed, what I have called elsewhere, her quaint portrayal of an eccentric Goan Catholic household, are in for a double treat, as we now can more intimately familiarize with the painter that Savia Viegas is along with her writing. This book is crafted on the lines of the namas that were produced, with much ornate finesse in the Mughal kitabkhana (royal atelier). Though its primary template is borrowed from the namas, Abha Nama goes in to reinvent the form and structure of the modern-day graphic novel (though the author claims that her work is not a graphic novel), much like Bhimayana: Experiences of Untouchability. With its thick and crude lines complementing bold, solid colours, Abha Nama can be considered to provide two different yet mutually dependent narratives.  
           Let me focus first on the text. The story opens with the protagonist suffering from a heart attack and trying to stay alive in her crumbling old house as “[t]hat is all a cretin on the edge of life could do!” She is delusional and sees the images of her younger self, at which point the story takes off. A young and rebellious girl, wanting to escape from her overbearing parents, Abha Dias decides to move to Bombay. To keep body and soul together as well as pay for her education, she is forced to do part-time jobs as her mother could not forever pawn her jewellery to meet her expenses.
            Abha then gets a teaching position at the Raisingani College – first as a temp and later full-time. It is here that the young (and what appears to be an idealist) Abha gets exposed to petty and parochial staff-room politics. Abha also has to negotiate and tread carefully due to the larger political currents that were being ushered in the Indian economy post-1990, a time in which this novel is set. Savia Viegas briefly hints at the commodification of education and a large part of the novel deals with how a red-carpet welcome was given to foreign exchange programmes for some believed that the “new G and L buzzwords” would “shake the portals of education.”

            Abha is reduced to a frustrated teacher, whose idealism is time and again defeated by a lackadaisical administration and disinterested students. In fact the system is so messed-up that Abha has to teach Ancient Indian History to commerce students, who naturally don’t give a damn. Abha’s repeated attempts to infuse fresh ideas into the courses she offers are being frustrated by one entity or another. Thus, the irony of Abha’s personal and professional life is beautifully brought out by Savia Viegas, “I had left home because my father was overbearing, my mother rigid. I had believed in a kind of freedom but had wound up in a work situation that was not offering much. I ended up making all sorts of compromises.”
Despite the odds, she perseveres and gets a modicum of institutional rewards and hence also has to deal with the fact of her Catholic identity coming under discrimination (“I don’t know where they come from all these Catholics – beef and pork eaters, who snivel their way up through bedrooms and boardrooms.”).
When one thinks that students are the only ones who suffer due to the ‘system’, Abha Nama provides an alternate view: that we are both in this together. Abha has to always assess thousand-odd answer books in 10-15 days and as a result some errors crop-up in her mark-lists. Abha is asked to explain herself in writing. With the letter in her hand and burdened by loneliness in a big, bad city, she climbs the flight of stairs and fifteen years of devoted teaching comes to an abrupt end with a massive heart attack.
            Savia Viegas does not tell us why a Catholic lady lecturer from Goa, who is trained in Indology decides to tell her story in a markedly Islamicate pictorial idiom. I claim that this work needs to be viewed in a larger context of Savia Viegas’ interests where her work tries not to imagine Goa through a brahmanical framework. Indeed, when I had read her first novel I realized for the first time that Goa could have a ‘Muslim’ past (with her skilful use of those “green eyes”). Hence, one can also argue that this work is a Goan Catholic claim on their Islamicate past.
Abha Nama, resplendent with illustrations, though engaging, also provides the texture for the gloomy setting of the novel. The colours change as per the emotional crests and troughs of Abha. Sometimes, the lines become so chaotic and hackneyed that one is unable to make sense of the illustrations – compelling the reader to build his/her own narrative, for there surely is a method in this madness! This Abha Nama was produced in a kitabkhana situated in the lovely and sleepy village of Carmona, Goa – Savia’s residence. Hence the narrative of the novel situated in a metropolitan setting is also, at the same time, not a metropolitan one.
Abha Nama brings many periods of history together – the ancient, the medieval and even the modern. Perhaps, her illustrations with the chaos and rough edges might hide a metaphor for thinking about our history.

 Abha Nama by Savia Viegas (Carmona, Goa: Saxtti Foundation), 2012; pp. 128, Rs. 250/- [ISBN: 9788190398540] 
  
(A version of this article appeared on THE BOOK REVIEW, Vol. XXXVII, No. 6, June 2013)

Monday, 3 June 2013

OF MORALS AND FABLES


 
Our childhood was replete with stories where animals spoke and acted like humans and as the story ended there was always a ‘moral’ to be drawn from it. Be it Aesop’s Fables or the Panchatantra, these didactic narratives which were a part of our childhood days have stayed with us even today. This review will focus on the translation of a hundred of Aesop’s Fables into Konknni by Fr. Pratap Naik SJ and Shilpa Salvi titled Isopacheo Kannio. Many of these narratives are used as ‘lessons’ in our textbooks and reading them made me remember many of my textbook ‘lessons’ once again!
 (L-R) Shilpa Salvi, Fr. Pratap Naik SJ, Vincy Quadros, Fr. Feroz Fernandes, Dionisio N F Carvalho, Premanand Lotlikar, Isidore Dantas, Anita Pinto at the release of Isopacheo Kannio on Children’s Day, 2012 in Children’s Park, Campal, Panjim.
            Aesop’s Fables are believed to have been composed somewhere around 6th century BC by Aesop who was a slave and a story-teller in ancient Greece. These short fables not only served as “entertaining anecdotes” but also taught “a pointed lesson by indirect means.” Scholars point out that the genre of fables is fundamentally concerned with relations of unequal power between individuals and groups: in terms of money, prestige or power. Fables were believed to be an expression or cultural form of the lower classes and that it articulated their disadvantaged position. But such fables are also found in aristocratic writings as well.
            Naik and Salvi have done a wonderful job. The translation is crisp and the editing is tight. But most importantly, the language and choice of phrases used in the book will not be a bother for the children reading this book. The translators have taken immense pain to be concise while remaining true to the structure of the story.
           Translation is a tricky business. Sometimes the flavour of the fables can be lost in the process of translation. Take the example of Konkani Folk Tales retold by Olivinho J. F. Gomes (National Book Trust, 2007) from Konknni to English where one gets the feeling that the translation is too academic. Fables and/or folk tales whether in English or Konknni are fun to read in the original and somehow the flavour has to be maintained. In this context, one can also mention Venchik Lok-Kannio, a collection of folk-tales (not a translation) by Dr. Jayanti Naik, which were rendered into Romi a few years ago by Felicio Cardozo. The flavour and mellifluous flow of a Konknni folk-tale is best introduced to the reader through this book. 
            In Isopacheo Kannio all the hundred stories are accompanied with illustrations by Dominic Cordo. It must be said that each illustration is carefully thought out and the crux of the story is ably depicted. However, this book could also have benefitted from a better cover, one that immediately appeals to the kids and filled with complementing colours. 
As mentioned earlier, fables convey a “political message” and when put in the context of ancient Greek city-life, the message that is given is of unequal power-relations where the weak must obey the strong. But there can also be another possible reflection on these fables, that is, if one does not want herself and others to suffer from the situations and power-relations described in the story they can strive to create a social universe to prevent the narrative of the story from playing out. One can also ask, “Why should we choose to act like animals when we can choose not to and when we can create an environment in which acting like animals is unnecessary?”
Since these stories do not take place in any particular context and share many structural features with the Konknni folk-tales such as the extraction of morals from the stories, the process of rendering and understanding Aesop’s Fables in a distinctly Konknni register has not created any problems. Thus, as pointed above, these fables could have multiple ‘morals’ derived from them and hence the translators could have provided more than one ‘moral’ (even if they are contradictory to one another) for the reader to reflect upon.
This is a wonderful addition to the corpus of Konknni literature. Isopacheo Kannio is a must read for all young readers.


All quotations from:   
Clayton, Edward. “Aesop, Aristotle, and Animals: The Role of Fables in Human Life.” Humanitas 21, no. 1 and 2 (2008): 179–200.
Rothwell, Jr., Kenneth S. “Aristophanes’ ‘Wasps’ and the Sociopolitics of Aesop’s Fables.” The Classical Journal 90, no. 3 (1995): 233–254.

For more on Romi Konknni see here.


Isopacheo Kannio translated by Fr. Pratap Naik SJ and Shilpa Salvi (Ponnje/Panjim: Dalgado Konknni Akademi), 2012; pp. 206, Rs. 100/-; Phone: 91-0832-2221688 (Available at Dalgado Konknni Akademi, Panjim)

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: June 4, 2013).