Friday, 27 July 2012

DELUGE AND DAMNATION


Writing a debut novel can be a tough task. Inexperience can be a major hindrance. The plot may digress and may not be able to hold the attention of the reader. If such manuscripts do not go through a process of critical surveying, followed by the tightest possible editing, then the end result could be a bad reading experience. The review of Budd’tti, a novel by Manuel Fernandes in the Roman script will discuss such a shortcoming and also try to read the plot (or plots) of the novel along with the contemporary social and political Goan world.
            Manuel Fernandes has written and directed a few tiatrs and has presented his plays on the All India Radio. He is a regular writer who has published his writings in many Konknni mastheads, especially Gulab.
            Budd’tti or flood is a novel which takes its inspiration from the Biblical tale of Noah and the deluge that God had sent on the earth. Manuel Fernandes has tried to use the symbolism of the Flood and how it inundates everything, in trying to comment about the abysmal and egregious conditions of Goan political life and also (I suspect) the declining moral values of Catholic families. But in attempting to invoke this symbolism as well as wrapping a moral message for his readers, Manuel Fernandes’ novel fails to live up to the expectations. The plot changes directions several times; to the effect that it seems that the author is abandoning one strand of narration and starting a new one, only to discard it once again.
            The novel opens with Ronald, a small-time cloth merchant and his wife Ravina who are very devoted to each other. But there is a sudden twist in the story: Ronald starts having an affair with a young widow, Sofia. Ravina is divorced by Ronald and he drives her out of the house – and into destitution. In another turn of events, Ronald is shown as leading an agitation against a pollution-causing factory. This agitation snowballs into a popular movement which propels him into politics. In due course of time he also becomes the Chief Minister of Goa. Agitation against big industries is an important theme in the book and I believe it is included in the narrative because in recent times Goa has gone through many such agitations. But though Ronald is the protagonist and contemporary politics a major space for comment, the author seems to be struggling to keep these strands tied together in a unifying narrative.
            Ravina is shown as migrating to Bombay, only to make a dramatic and somewhat surreal entry in the end. Manuel Fernandes had tried to keep the suspense for the last, but such a model does not succeed in providing a coherent and believable ending. Along with the revamping of the plot in the editing stages of the book, the author also had a lot of scope to expand and develop his existing narrative. Elaborating more on the characters and the plot at the beginning of the novel would have, in my opinion, provided a solid base to the narration.
            Meanwhile, due to his power and influence Ronald starts indulging himself in corrupt practices. He starts smuggling arms and precious metals as well as making under-the-table deals to set up pollution-causing industries. Ronald chances upon a hidden vault when constructing his house and he converts it into an underground cave; a haven for his contraband. This hidden cave is accidentally discovered by Felicio, a journalist who puts his principles and the ethics of the profession first and follows them to the book.
            After a lot of rather bizarre twists and turns, Ronald receives punishment for his evil deeds. His criminal activities are exposed (though in a way that would never stand a chance in a court of law!) and he has to run away from the long arm of the law as well as the frenzied fury of his voters. Ronald escapes to the surrounding jungle and returns in a state of destitution and injury to a dilapidated house, where he breathes his last. During his funeral, suddenly, the sky becomes overcast and there is a torrent of rain. And since the novel is set on the banks of the Zuari (Cortalim to be precise), the banks of the river overflow and the resulting flood washes the coffin and with it the corpse of Ronald into the sea.
            What Manuel Fernandes has tried to do is to use Ronald as a symbol for the rot in Goan society, where everything that we cherished has been destroyed or is on the verge of destruction. Ronald is the corrupt politician who is selling dear Goa for his own benefit, not for a second thinking about the general public or listening to the voice of his conscience. And somewhere, between so much gloom and doom, there is a longing for the good old days; for an ideal to be realized
We can find a caution in the novel, that if we don’t wake up fast, along with our “coffins” we will also be washed away in the sea of nothingness. This metaphor is primarily invoked to guard the Goan identity, an issue that has gathered a lot of storm in the recent times. But since the novel is an attempt to be a comment and a critique on the politics, society and morality and at some level is made to operate as a homily, it lacks nuance. Manuel Fernandes has tried to focus in this direction but has fallen short to provide a strong argument and narrative simply because his views are not nuanced and critical of the world he has observed and is a part of. Coupled with a lack of planning of the plot, the whole novel stands on shaky ground. Throughout the novel, Manuel Fernandes also tries to portray how an ideal woman should behave and conduct herself in the society. His portrayal of the woman being not just a seductress, but the very object of temptation seems shallow for our times.
            The cover of the book could have been a lot better. Budd’tti is published under the aegis of the Dalgado Konknni Akademi and as such there is a greater responsibility resting on the shoulders of this organization to think of including more checks and balances in the editorial department so that the end result may not lack in the most important aspect of a book: a good reading experience!

Budd’tti by Manuel Fernandes (Cortalim/Kutt’tthalli: Dog Bhav Prokaxon), 2011; pp. 164, Rs. 60/-; Phone: 91-0832-2221688 (Available at Dalgado Konknni Akademi, Panjim)

(A version of this article appeared on Gomantak Times, dt: July 28, 2012). 

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