Once upon a time…” is a great way to start telling a story. It brings back the joys of childhood, it suggests the possibility of fable, it distances the teller and the hearer from the ordinariness of reality, it invokes that whole suspension of disbelief thing we all love.
At the beginning, one begins to wonder whether one is in the middle of a fairy tale. All those tales are always told by an outsider, someone from the world of the rational, someone who can see that in the normal way of things horse heads mounted on the wall do not have the power of prophecy, that few tailors can stitch eggs that have been shot to pieces neatly and that it is unlikely that a police inspector may find himself at the wrong end of a tranny from Brazil.
Chakravarti, author of Once Upon a Time in Aparanta, is, of course, one of the bhaille, the word with which every non-Goan is greeted when he crosses the line, when he oversteps the mark, when the Goan is feeling xenophobic about other Indians (the word is rarely used to talk about non-Goans of pink flesh). This book is, therefore, a gross impertinence, if you believe that territories are demarcated by a geography that is not defined by the imagination. This would take in most of India. What would happen if a Goan settled in Kolkata and some years later, wrote a book about the bhadralok? No, no, no plans. Just gedanken (a thought).
Is this then the magical realist novel out of Goa? There are times when one suspects that this might be the project. There are the ornate sentences: “Little dalliances that made her forget that her mother, Christabel, was now in Melbourne with another man — a generous ‘Dubai-returned’ man from Chandor who had gladly given her mother the baubles and comforts Dino, whom Christabel had married in the hope of an urbane lifestyle, at the very least in Bombay if not other cities of the world, would not”. There are the physiological improbabilities: “When he tenderly touched young Olimpio’s lacerated and bloody bums — this part he kept to himself, knowing most of his brothers would not commiserate — he was washing his hands in his own blood, may God forgive him.” There is the lush enjoyment of improbable Creole: “What dey tink? Catlick peoples and Indu peoples not together? Dey not going to fest of St Anne in Talaulum looking for husbands and wifes and childrens? Dey not going to Indu house in Panjim for Good Friday pro-say-shun? Indu peoples not giving cunji for Siridao chapel fest? Indu peoples and Catlick peoples not dancing like mad peoples for Siolim zagor?”
Flashback: Chakravarti tries to capture the magic of yesteryear Goa and mourns its passing.
There is the relentless mixing of humanity that throws up the intersection of cultures where cross-fertilizations may produce the useful and the infertile: British tourists, Portuguese mestizo hold-outs, new Goans from the successful tip of India’s pyramid, Russian mafia men, Old Conquest Catholics, firebrand journalists, bell-adorned beauties of uncertain origin (no Israelis, unless one missed some in the throng of characters that come and go, talking about Michael and Angelo).
Then, just as you are settling down to the commedia dell’arte of it all, Dino Dantas, firebrand, angry young man, the aforementioned Dino who was unable to give Christabel the life she wanted, the Dino who attacked Winston Almeida (nudge, nudge, Winston, geddit?), is picked up and savagely murdered. He is kicked in the head and in various parts of the body.
The Brazilian tranny “spits on herself (a fine and polite use of the feminine pronoun for the most masculine of parts but then it is la verge in French and therefore feminine, and piroca in Portuguese, too, is a feminine noun) and forces herself into Dino” as the police inspector and another man try to fondle her magnificent breasts. They all stop for a drink. The Russian moves in and scoops out Dino’s eyes. Dino shits himself. He vomits. His lips are ripped from his face.
Thus die those who meddle with the forces at work in Aparanta, the land of the horizon, carved out of the sea by the knife of a god for the love of the Brahmins and the expiation of the death of Kshatriyas, the dourada or the golden one melting in the sun, the Rome of the East, the Kashi of the Konkan, the self-contained little island of sosegado and the rich ripe smell of cashew.
This is how it will go. Need one bang on about the predictive power of the untruth?
Jerry Pinto is the author of Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb.
Write to firstname.lastname@example.org