Theater in Konknni is a form of art that is very popular in Goa. Of late, it is heartening to note that many manuscripts are being published and a decent corpus of tiatrs and plays are now available for the general reader. Of the many tiatrs and collections of short one-act plays, Arso: 26 Nattkuleancho Jhelo by Fr. Michael Fernandes is one such book. This collection under review, consist of twenty-six one-act plays and the novelty about this book is that the titles follow the sequence of the roman alphabets from A-Z.
Fr. Michael Fernandes is a young priest hailing from Benaulim. He has published his writings in various Konknni newsmagazines like Jivit, Gulab, Goan Review, V.Ixtt and some periodicals published by the Church in Goa. An alumnus of the Saligão seminary, Fr. Michael had also contributed to the nagri Konknni daily Sunaparant in its Campus Reporter section. A versatile writer experimenting with such diverse forms of writing such as essays, stories, poems, lyrics and besides being a playwright Arso is Fr. Michael’s first book.
If we take an overview of Fr. Michael’s collection, we would find that these plays are written to impart good moral values. The plots are simple and move in a direction that allows the author to end with a homily. Issues such as teenage love, respect for elders and parents, honesty, Christian values, concern for the environment etc are discussed in Arso. Fr. Michael also discusses issues like the Goan identity and heritage in the face of rampant changes due to external influences and the in-migration of people from other states. After reading the book, one gets this impression that the main purpose of the author is to impart a virtuous and moralistic message to the readers and the audience. A recurring feature of the book, that one notices, is the rapid change-of-heart to lead a good, moral life of the bad characters found in the book. The way these characters pledge to reform themselves sometimes appears to be too easily done and that the author has taken shelter in convenience. Given the time and space constraints of a one-act play, such brevity is however understandable.
In Bãym or Well, Fr. Michael stresses the importance of our traditional wells and also the need to conserve water. The use of a particular Saxtti dialect in this play makes interesting reading. In fact there are a few other instances where Fr. Michael has also experimented with other dialects, which is quite a commendable task. In some of the plays, the dialogues for lay characters are written in a way a priest would preach a sermon (for instance in Advogad), which makes the scene being enacted seem unreal. Is there a need to use lofty examples from the Bible at every turn of the phrase?
That we should care for our old parents is one message that runs throughout the book. The position that Fr. Michael takes on such an issue is not a new one and we have all heard such arguments at various platforms. Fr. Michael’s position will be clear from the following quote from Inam’ where Marcus, a character in the play says thus: “Dor eka putak ani dhuvek mhozo ulo – tumchim avoy-bapuy kitlim-i zanttim pasun zalear, tankam pois korum nakat, nhoi mhonn azilant-ui ghalum nakat. Kiteak, je tyag ani koxtt tumchim avoy-bapuy tumche khatir kaddtat te sonvsarantle her khuinchech monis kaddchenant.” [This is my call to every son and daughter. No matter how old and infirm your parents may be, do not turn away from them, nor admit them in an old-age home. For they have toiled for you like nobody else in this world]. Though in agreement that we should care for the people who love us, is it always practical and feasible to walk the path that Fr. Michael is suggesting?
I would also like to single out another play that could have benefitted from some fresh thinking by a very young priest like Fr. Michael. In Maim (Mother), in return for a lakh of rupees which would secure Alroy a job, the idols of Mother Mary need to be destroyed and he has to proclaim that there is no use in believing in Mother Mary. Alroy does as he is required by “the group” and immediately he meets with an accident. Or in Tallnni or Temptation, which is a story about two brothers. Since their mother has to go out shopping, she tells her two boys to sincerely sit down and study for their exams which are fast approaching. One brother succumbs to temptation and goes out with his friends to play – only to drown in a river in an act of Devan khast layli (God has punished).
This idea of divine retribution should be abandoned by young priests like Fr. Michael. Rather than continuing with old and stale ideas, Fr. Michael could have infused his writings with a new spirit, one that celebrates life with all its faults and shortcomings. I shall stop here lest I begin to sound too preachy!
Though many of the themes repeat and overlap in many of the plays, the collection does not seem to be a boring repetition. In other words, the plays are written in a way that sustains the interest of the reader. Arso is neatly printed and bound with almost zero typos. The cover illustration by Alvito D’Costa, though a bit clichéd, is artfully done. The only problem is that the name of the author deserved better visibility, for it seems to be lost in one corner of the cover. In summation, this book not only makes a good read but could come handy to schools looking for scripts of one-act plays to be staged during the annual gatherings. For it is only by encouraging young writers like Fr. Michael that more Konknni writings would blossom forth.
Arso: 26 Nattkuleancho Jhelo by Fr. Michael Fernandes (Benaulim/Bann’nnavle: Micferns Prokaxon), 2010; pp. IX+237, Rs. 100/-; Phone: 91-0832-2221688 (Available at Dalgado Konknni Akademi, Panjim)
(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: June 23, 2012)
For the Konkani translation of this article see here.