Monday, 18 April 2011

CANADA’S 55+ PUT PEN TO PAPER

In the recent years it seems that the Goan diaspora is speaking out. This is evident from the fact that a number of books have been published which deal with the history of Goan migration, the causes of such a migration and the experience(s) resulting from settling in a foreign land. These books have a decent ‘visibility’ in the various bookstores in Goa as well as on the internet. I would rate Selma Carvalho’s Into the Diaspora Wilderness as one which articulates migration-related issues in a succinct way (reviewed by me for GT: October 6, 2010).
            Goa Masala, an anthology of stories by Canada Goans, is one such voice of the diaspora. This book was conceived by the 55 Plus Goan Association (55PGA) of Canada. “Our vision was to capture for the future the many stories that resided in people’s minds, and which otherwise might not have seen the light of the day,” says Rudy Fernandes, the President of 55PGA in the foreword. The book, running into 260 pages contains 41 essays and stories by many prominent Canada Goans above the age of 55.
I am of the opinion that the Goa Masala project is a very ambitious one. What it aims to do is to safeguard for the future Canada Goan generations an ‘identity’, a form of Goaness if I may say so. A major achievement of the 55PGA – for which they must be lauded – was that they were able “to get reticent Goans to put pen to paper.” These writings, in a way, are expected to function as the Prehistoric cave paintings containing hunting, fishing and other scenes that were meant for the next generation.
At the outset, I should state that I do not intend to do a full-fledged book review. While reading the book, I realized that this was a text essentially dealing in personal histories. These personal histories do help the historians in understanding a larger historical process – in this case migration in general (or migration to Canada in particular). The importance of personal histories that would contribute to a better and nuanced understanding of a larger historical process is stressed by Pamila Gupta from the University of the Witwatersrand, South Africa when writing about the migration of Mozambique Goans living in Maputo (to which I shall later return). What I was really looking forward to, in this collection, was these ‘personal histories’ against the social, economic and political background of Canada. Let’s call this, the ‘Canada experience’.
 Most of the writers (including some who were coerced to write) in this anthology have immigrated to Canada from Africa and rather than their ‘Canada experience’, the nostalgic and adventurous reminisces of living in Africa and hunting trips in the African jungles as well as homecoming to or vacations in Goa find a greater print place. While there is certainly nothing wrong with it, the successive repetition of more-or-less the same plot-line renders a good portion of the book monotonous. Along with the ‘African Adventures’ and ‘homecoming’, wouldn’t it have been better if Canada too was featured in the narration? After all, Canada is the country that all the writers have adopted as their new home. The essay, The ‘canonization’ of Manny Sequeira! by Manuel Sequeira makes an earnest (and perhaps only) attempt at explaining his assimilation into Canadian society but falls a little short. Similarly, most of the essays do start promisingly but lack a good ending. Meriting special mention is one particular story that I immensely liked: The Chutney Mutiny by Alice Pinto.
The editor(s) of this book could have used their red pens with a greater flourish. One can’t help but notice that the narration is not free flowing in many cases. In the foreword, a disclaimer is added: “The stories featured in this publication have not been fact-checked for authenticity by the 55PGA, the publishers or the editors. Authors of the individual stories assume full responsibility of their own stories.” Maintaining authenticities as well as technicalities is the responsibility, I think, of the editors along with the authors. Consider this confusion: On p. 162, the author, Pliny X. Noronha, writes that, “…a member of our clergy informed that in fact St. Catherine of Alexandria…is the official patron saint of Goa” to which the editor introduces a footnote saying, “She was until recently; today the patron saint of Goa is the Blessed Jose Vaz.” Jose Vaz is only beatified and not canonized ergo; he can’t be a patron saint.
I shall now return to the case study of the Mozambique Goans. In 2009, Pamila Gupta wrote an essay, “The Disquieting of History: Portuguese (De)colonization and Goan Migration in the Indian Ocean”, in the Journal of Asian and African Studies (44[1]: 19-47). Due to the dearth of archival and reference material, Ms. Gupta had to rely on life histories of the Goans who had migrated to Mozambique. She uses a “biographical” approach to reveal “unwritten histories and ideologies of migration.”
Ms. Gupta takes her inspiration from the anthropologist Engseng Ho, who “productively and creatively turns to other source materials such as gravestones, textiles, biographies, genealogies, legal documents, poetry, novels, and prayers.” By taking the help of the personal narratives of the Mozambique Goans, Ms. Gupta was able to bring about a ‘disquiet’ of the history of Goans living in that country.
Like the Mozambique Goans, the Canada Goans too could have offered their ‘personal histories’ to the historians. A chance is missed at a potential ‘disquiet of history’.  Since my major complain was the inadequate representation of the ‘Canada experience’ in an anthology by Canada Goans, I sincerely hope that future endeavours – by 55PGA or any body else in Canada – would include the same.
Hats off to 55PGA and to Goa 1556 for publishing this anthology in association with A Plus Publishing, Canada.

Name: Goa Masala: An Anthology of Stories by Canada Goans
Published by: Goa 1556, Saligão in association with A Plus Publishing, Canada
Price: Rs. 195/-
ISBN: 978-93-80739-04-5

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: April 18, 2011)

4 comments:

  1. Dale, Thanks sincerely for taking the time to do this review. Reviews
    are important if Goa books are to get the attention they deserve, and
    we have so few reviews happening.

    I agree with some of your comments, but over others feel that for
    every viewpoint we can find an equally convincing and opposite point
    of view.

    When the chance came up to republish 'Goa Masala' in Goa, I seized it
    with both hands, for a number of reasons. On behalf of Goa,1556, I can
    say that it is one of our better books which I am proud to be
    associated with. The feedback we got here was heart-warming; even my
    kids (12 and 7 years old) enjoyed many of the stories, which I
    converted into bedtime tales for them while surreptitiously
    proof-reading the text!

    Dan Driscoll himself volunteered to do a reading from the book, and
    his views are online here
    [http://www.megavideo.com/?v=FR9ENQ5P] Contd...

    ReplyDelete
  2. On 18 April 2011 23:48, dale luis menezes wrote:

    > In the recent years it seems that the Goan diaspora
    > is speaking out. This is evident from the fact that a
    > number of books have been published which deal
    > with the history of Goan migration, the causes of
    > such a migration and the experience(s) resulting
    > from settling in a foreign land. These books have

    The diaspora has long been writing about its experiences. The Goan
    Voice, as Eddie Fernandes reminds us, was a newspaper (weekly?)
    published in Kenya (if I got it right). People like JB Pinto of
    Saligao has written a book on Goan migration in the early 1960s. The
    Goa Today, in its earlier Lambert Mascarenhas avatar (prior to its
    being bought over by the Salgaocars) was very much of a diaspora Goa
    networking voice.

    Now, that voice is being heard back in Goa. Partly due to the Net,
    also because the barriers to publishing books are far fewer than
    earlier (thanks to computerised typesetting, lower costs, better
    printing options including in India). Also the setting up of the NRI
    Commission in Goa, after lobbying by expats, who were, in part, linked
    up by channels like Goanet.

    > a decent ‘visibility’ in the various bookstores in
    > Goa as well as on the internet.

    Actually, no! We're struggling to get noticed here. Maybe one or two
    of the bigger bookshops in Panjim and Margao have noticed this work.
    But ask any author or publisher how difficult it is to get "visible"
    even in Goa itself.

    > Most of the writers (including some who were
    > coerced to write) in this anthology have
    > immigrated to Canada from Africa and rather
    > than their ‘Canada experience’, the nostalgic
    > and adventurous reminisces of living in Africa
    > and hunting trips in the African jungles as
    > well as homecoming to or vacations in Goa
    > find a greater print place.

    When I write my memories, they often go back to the 1970s. Those were
    the formative years of my life, and what I remember the best. I've
    also had many ex-Africander friends, and understand how much their
    experiences there shaped their lives. Maybe you'd have to wait some
    more time before the Canada stories emerge.

    > While there is certainly nothing wrong with it, the
    > successive repetition of more-or-less the same
    > plot-line renders a good portion of the book monotonous.

    Is it a case of all Chinamen look the same? I guess our distance from
    the issue makes it all look "more-or-less the same".

    As for me, on a closer reading, I found this to be an interesting mix
    of a range of themes -- the spoilt boy-child, a train-driver (in
    British India?) of another generation, creaking old mansions with trap
    doors, the cuckolded husband, belief in evil eye, fishing in Goa,
    cross-cultural marriages, the expat and Konkani, learning to swim in
    Goa, and more...

    These are only the first nine stories. Even the Africa-focussed
    stories have variety in them. My kids (beta-testers for some books!)
    were thrilled and also upset by Xavier Sequeira's *Elephant hunt in
    Tanzania*. The hunter kills a majestic jumbo, only to regret it: "The
    dying matriarch raised its trunk and trumpeted, as if to warn the rest
    of the herd, and then the five ton beast slumped to its knees and
    slowly crumbled on its side.... but then I felt no elation as I saw
    the proud majestic matriarch crumble with my single bullet."

    ReplyDelete
  3. Other Africa stories deal with an untimely death in the family (many
    of our earlier generations died while in their 40s!), fleeing
    Africanisation, the coup, coming back for marriage and a bride, a
    tragi-comedy at an airport in remote Africa, and the like.

    I think we're making the mistake to presume that Goans in Canada all
    come in one size and shape. In fact, what this book makes clear if
    anything is that the Canadian Goans today take memories from a range
    of places -- from Burma, from Goa, from what was British India, from
    Africa (particularly Uganda, Kenya and Zanzibar), and from Bombay and
    Pakistan (though the last two are not very visible here).

    If anything, the theme of the Africa-to-Goa journey does show up in
    four chapters, and mention in maybe a couple more. You could call that
    excessive. On the other hand, this was such a memorable part of life
    overseas I guess that most ex-Africanders would recall that.

    > In the foreword, a disclaimer is added:
    > “The stories featured in this publication have
    > not been fact-checked for authenticity by
    > the 55PGA, the publishers or the editors.
    > Authors of the individual stories assume
    > full responsibility of their own stories.”

    Fact checking on a canvas of this scale would indeed be an
    impossibility, given that it spans three to four continents and
    memories going back sixty to seventy years! You could argue with
    credibility thought that it might have made sense to avoid such a
    disclaimer itself.

    > “She was until recently; today the patron saint of Goa
    > is the Blessed Jose Vaz.” Jose Vaz is only beatified and
    > not canonized ergo; he can’t be a patron saint.

    You're right on the above, but it's probably only a tiny quibble. The
    word "saint" should have been deleted, our error. For the devout, and
    as stated in for instance the archdiocese directory, Jose Vaz is
    indeed the patron of Goa.

    > Like the Mozambique Goans, the Canada Goans too
    > could have offered their ‘personal histories’ to the historians.

    I would think it is for the historians to work on this, and not the
    other way around.

    Once again, thanks for discussing this work.

    FN

    ReplyDelete
  4. Sorry, my response was probably too long, so I had to split it into three parts (above)

    ReplyDelete