Wednesday, 29 April 2015

READING REGINALD: THE FORM OF ‘WELL-MADE PLAY’



Previous explorations on the novels of Reginald Fernandes tried to understand the constituent elements that made a Reginald romans. Very briefly, the romans essentially had love between couples who were not equal socially and economically, this love underwent trials and tribulations, and culminated with a happy ending. Another important aspect of Reginald Fernandes’ writings was the role that magic played in bringing about this happy ending or union. While we had largely noted the content of the romans, there was very little said about the form or structure of the same. In other words, what was the logical manner in which the romans was written? This article would like to offer some comments about the same.


The novel that we will look at in order to better understand the form of Reginald’s romans is Tosca (1964). Very briefly, Tosca is a story of two women who look exactly the same. One is from a rich family and the other from a poor one. Tosca – the real one – from the rich family has virtues par excellence. Rita who looks like Tosca has a bad conscience, and is dishonest to the bone. It so happens that these girls shift places through the evil designs of Rita – or impostor Tosca. The whole novel is about how the real Tosca is restored to her rightful place, and justice done to her in the end.

In order to understand the logical manner in which Reginald wrote, one can profitably look at a form of theater called the ‘well-made play’. It is well-known how deeply connected Reginald was with theater through tiatr, and I have also made the argument that the Konkani romans gave and received from the tiatr as well. The Encyclopaedia Britannica has this to say about the ‘well-made plays’, “The technical formula of the well-made play, developed around 1825 by the French playwright Eugène Scribe, called for complex and highly artificial plotting, a build-up of suspense, a climactic scene in which all problems are resolved, and a happy ending. Conventional romantic conflicts were a staple subject of such plays (for example, the problem of a pretty girl who must choose between a wealthy, unscrupulous suitor and a poor but honest young man). Suspense was created by misunderstandings between characters, mistaken identities, secret information (the poor young man is really of noble birth), lost or stolen documents, and similar contrivances”. Such a genre of theater was popular in Europe and America during the nineteenth- and twentieth-century.

The first element of a ‘well-made play’ is logical exposition. This basically sets the scene for the story to unfold. In Reginald’s writings, this would be done in the first few chapters by laying the background of the main characters, like the girl coming from a rich family, who is also virtuous and the boy who is from a poor family as well as one who is honest. Also, Reginald would depict their deep love for each other. But in Tosca, however, it is the introduction of the lookalike characters from two different social and economic locations constitutes the logical exposition.

The next element comes in the form of an inciting incident. In this, an incident or a character is introduced that gets things moving. In most of Reginald’s writing, this role is played by an evil cousin, who generally wants to marry the heroine of the novel, so that he can usurp the wealth of her family. This inciting incident is generally a secret. The characters in the novel do not know about it, but the author reveals this to the audience or readers, making them interested in the plot of the novel. Very often one would find asides that Reginald as the narrator would offer in order to evoke sympathy, pity, or contempt for the characters in the minds of the reader.

In Tosca this secret is cleverly and deftly handled. You have the impostor Tosca – or Rita, who does not want her fraud to be revealed, on the one hand. On the other, you have the evil and scheming cousin Jacob, who tries to hide the fact that he is after the riches of Tosca’s family and also the fact that he had made Tosca’s parents consume a substance that would render them senile for some months. Both these characters have no idea of the ulterior motives of the other, though the readers come to know about it. The use of magic by Reginald comes within the ambit of the inciting incident, as this brings about a sudden twist in the plot, and also generates interest in the final outcome of the novel.

After the scene where the secret is introduced and/or as the plot progresses, the secrets are unfolded, the characters go through many ups-and-downs, such as getting kidnapped, being falsely implicated in a crime, going to jail, escaping prison, etc. The plot or the novel culminates in what is known as the obligatory scene. In this scene all the secrets are revealed and the happy ending is crafted. This is done in a manner that provides emotional satisfaction and closure to the reader or audience. In Tosca, this happens in a courtroom, wherein the impostor Tosca – or Rita is exposed for her fraud. Basically what is being done is that all the loose ends are tied together. This is also the part where marriage of the lovers is made known to the reader. There is a marriage in Tosca, too.

It can be suggested that Reginald operated within the ‘well-made play’ paradigm for once the loose ends are tied, he wastes not much time in describing how the marriage happens. Often one comes across his brief comments at the end of any novel saying that this is a good point at which to end the story as there was nothing much significant to narrate and it becomes obvious to the reader that the main characters have to be joined in holy matrimony.

Now within this form, Reginald always endeavored to give his own unique spin. He did this in the manner in which magic and a Goan cultural milieu was woven into his novels. This is where his genius lies.

For more Reading Reginald, click here.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 29 April, 2015)

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

HAVING A ‘BEEF’ WITH PORK?



During the Motion of Thanks to the Governor’s speech at the recently concluded budget session, Caitu Silva, the MLA from Benaulim, made a shocking statement in the Goa Legislative Assembly on 25 March, 2015. As reported in the national press, Silva was commenting on the state of the health-services in Goa when he said, “And some government officials in the hospital speak in such a despicable manner. I feel ashamed to say that some officers have said that the hospital in South (south Goa district) is to only save pig-eaters”. Asserting rightly that Christians in Goa need not be referred to pejoratively as “pig-eaters”, Silva also said, “[t]hese are the words used by a government officer. These words have been used because Christians eat pork? Officers should not do this. I know who the officer is”. Silva’s comments, yet again, reveal how food habits that are seen as non-Hindu are coming under repeated attacks and discrimination.

The ‘shocking’ nature of the comments naturally made it to the ‘national’ press. Many national newspaper and web portals carried the news from the stories filed by such syndicated news agencies like Agencies, PTI, and IANS. While there was some space given in the ‘national’ media for Silva’s statement, there was an almost deafening silence in Goa. Only a paragraph-long notice was published in the Goa edition of the Times of India. The first question that needs to be asked is why was there a deafening silence in the Goan press? Isn’t the shocking nature of the statement enough of a qualification for being newsworthy?

It needs to be borne in mind that this statement from Silva came at a time when the ban on beef in Maharashtra is generating a heated debate. Despite the fact that features and op-eds regularly appeared about the impact of the ban on beef on the Goan population, Silva’s revelations were not seen as part of the same casteist and communal politics that is behind the beef ban. There is a conceptual problem in the manner in which the discourse about food practices and habits are framed in the media. These issues relating to food habits and practices are solely seen through the lens of consumption. This, I would argue, is the root of the conceptual flaw. The ban on beef is not simply a matter of prohibition on consumption, but also about snatching livelihoods, denying fundamental rights in relation to food and livelihoods, and de-legitimizing food cultures of minoritized groups.


The issue of the discriminatory, casteist, and communal attitude of the government official, as revealed through Silva’s statement, also needs to be understood. Silva is right in asking whether Christians are referred to in a derogatory manner because they consume pork. But what is also chilling to note is implicit biases in the comment of the government official about people who consume pork. It is clear that the government official in question thinks that governmental resources are going to waste, since it is of no use to treat or provide health services to people who consume pork.

I am not making the claim that the said government official has actively denied Christians health services, because they consume pork. Indeed, there is insufficient evidence in this regard. But one can see how such contempt can create conditions to discriminate Christians and deny them governmental services and benefits. We are confronted with a process of creating minoritized groups, wherein conditions are created for denying communities access to such resources like health services. Such comments cannot be considered to create better living conditions and democratic participation in politics for Christians, or for that matter other minorititized groups in Goa.

The casteist and communal nature of the comments by the government official also needs to be linked with the uneasy history of relations between the so-called ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ cultures in Goa. Such an attitude is not simply confined to this particular government official. Indeed, the derogatory term ‘dukor khaire’ or ‘pig-eaters’ is quite common in Goa. One wonders how many such government servants, who are hired to promote the welfare of the citizens of Goa, hold such casteist and communal views. If one looks at the very delicately-poised relations that Goan Hindus (the ‘majority’) and the Christians (the ‘minority’) seem to have shared over the last few decades and the current communal polarization in India, one begins to understand that this discrimination has a longer history. One also needs to see how the hierarchy of the caste system operates through a hierarchization of food: with fish being the most acceptable (remember fish-eating brahmins are progressive, according to Rajdeep Sardesai), followed by chicken, mutton, pork, and finally beef. Consumption of pork perhaps can be used to single out Catholics from other minoritized groups in Goa. What the recent comments by the government official make us confront is that this discrimination is happening through governmental institutions – it is structural. Indeed, institutional discrimination against Christians in Goa was always present, now none can deny that it happens.

Matters of dietary preferences and taste are not simple and mundane choices that individuals make. In fact, there is always a deeper politics behind them, as is amply proven by the ban on beef, which not only dictates what persons should eat, but has also snatched away the livelihood from many engaged in the meat industry. Entire communities are implicated in this politics of minoritizing, leading to their eventual disenfranchisement. That the abovementioned comment was hardly debated in the Goan press only indicates to us that we need to urgently re-think about how we relate to our food and food cultures. We need to start thinking of food practices as not just embodying the cultural life of a community, but also impacting its economic and political spheres as well.

(First published in  O Heraldo, dt: 15 April, 2015)